Large-scale phenotypic drug screen identifies neuroprotectants in zebrafish and mouse models of retinitis pigmentosa

Liyun Zhang, Conan Chen, Jie Fu, Brendan Lilley, Cynthia Berlinicke, Baranda Hansen, Ding Ding, Guohua Wang, Tao Wang, Daniel Shou, Ying Ye, Timothy Mulligan, Kevin Emmerich, Meera T. Saxena, Kelsi R. Hall, Abigail V. Sharrock, Carlene Brandon, Hyejin Park, Tae In Kam, Valina L. DawsonTed M. Dawson, Joong Sup Shim, Justin Hanes, Hongkai Ji, Jun O. Liu, Jiang Qian, David F. Ackerley, Baerbel Rohrer, Donald J. Zack, Jeff S. Mumm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and associated inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) are caused by rod photoreceptor degeneration, necessitating therapeutics promoting rod photoreceptor survival. To address this, we tested compounds for neuroprotective effects in multiple zebrafish and mouse RP models, reasoning drugs effective across species and/or independent of disease mutation may translate better clinically. We first performed a large-scale phenotypic drug screen for compounds promoting rod cell survival in a larval zebrafish model of inducible RP. We tested 2,934 compounds, mostly human-approved drugs, across six concentrations, resulting in 113 compounds being identified as hits. Secondary tests of 42 high-priority hits confirmed eleven lead candidates. Leads were then evaluated in a series of mouse RP models in an effort to identify compounds effective across species and RP models, i.e., potential pan-disease therapeutics. Nine of eleven leads exhibited neuroprotective effects in mouse primary photoreceptor cultures, and three promoted photoreceptor survival in mouse rd1 retinal explants. Both shared and complementary mechanisms of action were implicated across leads. Shared target tests implicated parp1-dependent cell death in our zebrafish RP model. Complementation tests revealed enhanced and additive/synergistic neuroprotective effects of paired drug combinations in mouse photoreceptor cultures and zebrafish, respectively. These results highlight the value of cross-species/multi-model phenotypic drug discovery and suggest combinatorial drug therapies may provide enhanced therapeutic benefits for RP patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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