Development of a primary microglia screening assay and its use to characterize inhibition of system xc- by erastin and its analogs

Mariana Figuera-Losada, Ajit G. Thomas, Marigo Stathis, Brent R. Stockwell, Camilo Rojas, Barbara S. Slusher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The inflammatory response in the central nervous system involves activated microglia. Under normal conditions they remove damaged neurons by phagocytosis. On the other hand, neurodegenerative diseases are thought to involve chronic microglia activation resulting in release of excess glutamate, proinflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species, leading to neuronal death. System xC- cystine/glutamate antiporter (SXC), a sodium independent heterodimeric transporter found in microglia and astrocytes in the CNS, imports cystine into the cell and exports glutamate. SXC has been shown to be upregulated in neurodegenerative diseases including multiple sclerosis, ALS, neuroAIDS Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Consequently, SXC inhibitors could be of use in the treatment of diseases characterized by neuroinflammation and glutamate excitotoxicity. We report on the optimization of a primary microglia-based assay to screen for SXC inhibitors. Rat primary microglia were activated using lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and glutamate release and cystine uptake were monitored by fluorescence and radioactivity respectively. LPS-induced glutamate release increased with increasing cell density, time of incubation and LPS concentration. Conditions to screen for SXC inhibitors were optimized in 96-well format and subsequently used to evaluate SXC inhibitors. Known SXC inhibitors sulfasalazine, S-4CPG and erastin blocked glutamate release and cystine uptake while R-4CPG, the inactive enantiomer of S-4CPG, failed to inhibit glutamate release or cystine transport. In addition, several erastin analogs were evaluated using primary microglia and found to have EC50 values in agreement with previous studies using established cell lines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-272
Number of pages7
JournalBiochemistry and Biophysics Reports
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • (S)-4-CPG
  • CCF-STTG-1 cells
  • Erastin
  • Primary microglia
  • Sulfasalazine
  • System x

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry


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