Application of β-Galactosidase Enzyme Complementation Technology as a High Throughput Screening Format for Antagonists of the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor

Debbie Cunningham, N Bevan, P N Lowe, M Palmer, S Rees

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21 Citations (Scopus)


We have applied enzyme complementation technology to develop a screen for antagonists of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor. Chimeric proteins containing two weakly complementing deletion mutants of Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase (beta-gal), each fused to the EGF receptor extracellular and transmembrane domains, have been stably expressed in C2C12 cells. In this cell line, formation of active beta-gal is dependent on agonist-stimulated dimerization of the EGF receptor. We have developed a homogenous 384-well assay protocol and have applied this to characterize the pharmacology of the receptor and to develop a high throughput screen (HTS) for EGF receptor antagonists. The assay is tolerant to DMSO concentrations of up to 2% and, across 21 passages in culture, exhibits an EC(50) for EGF of 5.4 +/- 3.6 ng/ml (n = 11) and a Z' of 0.55 +/- 0.13 (n = 11). A random set of 1,280 compounds was screened in duplicate at 11 microM to examine the robustness of enzyme complementation technology and to characterize the false-positive hit rate in the assay. Using a cutoff of 40% inhibition of EGF-promoted beta-gal activity, the hit rate on day 1 was 2.5% and on day 2 was 1.9%. After retesting the active compounds, the hit rate was reduced to 0.4%, of which one of the compounds was identified as a beta-gal inhibitor and the remainder appeared to be nonspecific inhibitors in the assay. This technology is amenable to automated screen workstations, there are highly sensitive chemiluminescent and fluorescent beta-gal assay reagents amenable to detection in miniaturized plate formats, and the assay benefits from a low false-positive hit rate. Enzyme complementation technology may have wide application within the HTS environment for the detection of modulators of receptor activation or inhibitors of protein-protein interactions in mammalian cells.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biomolecular Screening: advancing the science of drug directory
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2001

Bibliographical note

Debbie Cunningham published under the name Debbie L Graham.


  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Dimerization
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide
  • Escherichia coli
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Luminescent Measurements
  • Receptor, Epidermal Growth Factor
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • beta-Galactosidase


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