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Sci Adv. 2018 Sep 26;4(9):eaar4666. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aar4666. eCollection 2018 Sep.

Evaluating biological activity of compounds by transcription factor activity profiling.

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Attagene Inc., P.O. Box 12054, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 109 T.W. Alexander Drive, D343-03, Research Triangle Park, NC 27711, USA.


Assessing the biological activity of compounds is an essential objective of biomedical research. We show that one can infer the bioactivity of compounds by assessing the activity of transcription factors (TFs) that regulate gene expression. Using a multiplex reporter system, the FACTORIAL, we characterized cell response to a compound by a quantitative signature, the TF activity profile (TFAP). We found that perturbagens of biological pathways elicited distinct TFAP signatures in human cells. Unexpectedly, perturbagens of the same pathway all produced identical TFAPs, regardless of where or how they interfered. We found invariant TFAPs for mitochondrial, histone deacetylase, and ubiquitin/proteasome pathway inhibitors; cytoskeleton disruptors; and DNA-damaging agents. Using these invariant signatures permitted straightforward identification of compounds with specified bioactivities among uncharacterized chemicals. Furthermore, this approach allowed us to assess the multiple bioactivities of polypharmacological drugs. Thus, TF activity profiling affords straightforward assessment of the bioactivity of compounds through the identification of perturbed biological pathways.

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