High-throughput screening is used by the pharmaceutical industry for identifying lead compounds that interact with targets of pharmacological interest. Because of the key role that aberrant regulation of protein phosphorylation plays in diseases such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension, kinases have become one of the main drug targets. With the exception of antibody-based assays, methods to screen for specific kinase activity are generally restricted to the use of small synthetic peptides as substrates. However, the use of natural protein substrates has the advantage that potential inhibitors can be detected that affect enzyme activity by binding to a site other than the catalytic site. We have previously reported a non-radioactive and non-antibody-based fluorescence quench assay for detection of phosphorylation or dephosphorylation using synthetic peptide substrates. The aim of this work is to develop an assay for detection of phosphorylation of chemically unmodified proteins based on this polymer superquenching platform.
Using a modified QTL Lightspeed™ assay, phosphorylation of native protein was quantified by the interaction of the phosphorylated proteins with metal-ion coordinating groups co-located with fluorescent polymer deposited onto microspheres. The binding of phospho-protein inhibits a dye-labeled "tracer" peptide from associating to the phosphate-binding sites present on the fluorescent microspheres. The resulting inhibition of quench generates a "turn on" assay, in which the signal correlates with the phosphorylation of the substrate. The assay was tested on three different proteins: Myelin Basic Protein (MBP), Histone H1 and Phosphorylated heat- and acid-stable protein (PHAS-1). Phosphorylation of the proteins was detected by Protein Kinase Cα (PKCα) and by the Interleukin -1 Receptor-associated Kinase 4 (IRAK4). Enzyme inhibition yielded IC50 values that were comparable to those obtained using peptide substrates. Statistical parameters that are used in the high-throughput community to determine assay robustness (Z'-value) demonstrate the suitability of this format for high-throughput screening applications for detection of inhibitors of enzyme activity.
The QTL Lightspeed™ protein detection system provides a simple mix and measure "turn on" assay for the detection of kinase activity using natural protein substrates. The platform is robust and allows for identification of inhibitors of kinase activity.