April 25, 2023
Resolving fundamental molecular and functional processes underlying human synaptic development is crucial for understanding normal brain function as well as dysfunction in disease. Based upon increasing evidence of species-divergent features of brain cell types, coupled with emerging studies of complex human disease genetics, we developed the first automated and quantitative high-content synaptic phenotyping platform using human neurons and astrocytes. To establish the robustness of our platform, we screened the effects of 376 small molecules on presynaptic density, neurite outgrowth, and cell viability, validating six small molecules that specifically enhanced human presynaptic density in vitro. Astrocytes were essential for mediating the effects of all six small molecules, underscoring the relevance of non-cell-autonomous factors in synapse assembly and their importance in synaptic screening applications. Bromodomain and extraterminal (BET) inhibitors emerged as the most prominent hit class and global transcriptional analyses using multiple BET inhibitors confirmed upregulation of synaptic gene expression. Through these analyses, we demonstrate the robustness of our automated screening platform for identifying potent synaptic modulators, which can be further leveraged for scaled analyses of human synaptic mechanisms and drug discovery efforts.
Genedata Screener was used in this work to analyze high content screening data.