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Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Hepatocytes Phenotypic Screening Reveals Small Molecules Targeting the CDK2/4-C/EBPα/DGAT2 Pathway Preventing ER-Stress Induced Lipid Accumulation

International Journal of Molecular Sciences
December 15, 2020

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has a large impact on global health. At the onset of disease, NAFLD is characterized by hepatic steatosis defined by the accumulation of triglycerides stored as lipid droplets. Developing therapeutics against NAFLD and progression to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) remains a high priority in the medical and scientific community. Drug discovery programs to identify potential therapeutic compounds have supported high throughput/high-content screening of in vitro human-relevant models of NAFLD to accelerate development of efficacious anti-steatotic medicines. Human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology is a powerful platform for disease modeling and therapeutic assessment for cell-based therapy and personalized medicine. In this study, we applied AstraZeneca’s chemogenomic library, hiPSC technology and multiplexed high content screening to identify compounds that significantly reduced intracellular neutral lipid content. Among 13,000 compounds screened, we identified hits that protect against hiPSC-derived hepatic endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced steatosis by a mechanism of action including inhibition of the cyclin D3-cyclin-dependent kinase 2-4 (CDK2-4)/CCAAT-enhancer-binding proteins (C/EBPα)/diacylglycerol acyltransferase 2 (DGAT2) pathway, followed by alteration of the expression of downstream genes related to NAFLD. These findings demonstrate that our phenotypic platform provides a reliable approach in drug discovery, to identify novel drugs for treatment of fatty liver disease as well as to elucidate their underlying mechanisms.