Assay interference and off-target liabilities of reported histone acetyltransferase inhibitors

Jayme L. Dahlin, Kathryn M. Nelson, Jessica M. Strasser, Dalia Barsyte-Lovejoy, Magdalena M. Szewczyk, Shawna Organ, Matthew Cuellar, Gurpreet Singh, Jonathan H. Shrimp, Nghi Nguyen, Jordan L. Meier, Cheryl H. Arrowsmith, Peter J. Brown, Jonathan B. Baell, Michael A. Walters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Many compounds with potentially reactive chemical motifs and poor physicochemical properties are published as selective modulators of biomolecules without sufficient validation and then propagated in the scientific literature as useful chemical probes. Several histone acetyltransferase (HAT) inhibitors with these liabilities are now routinely used to probe epigenetic pathways. We profile the most commonly used HAT inhibitors and confirm that the majority of them are nonselective interference compounds. Most (15 out of 23, 65%) of the inhibitors are flagged by ALARM NMR, an industry-developed counter-screen for promiscuous compounds. Biochemical counter-screens confirm that most of these compounds are either thiol-reactive or aggregators. Selectivity panels show many of these compounds modulate unrelated targets in vitro, while several also demonstrate nonspecific effects in cell assays. These data demonstrate the usefulness of performing counter-screens for bioassay promiscuity and assay interference, and raise caution about the utility of many widely used, but insufficiently validated, compounds employed in chemical biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1527
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge Mr Todd Rappe and Dr Youlin Xia for assistance with ALARM NMR; Hui Zhou and Dr Zhiguo Zhang for assistance with protein production and purification; Dr Ajit Jadhav for assistance with selectivity experiments; Dr Michael J. Mina for assistance with statistical analyses; and the Minnesota NMR Center. The Structural Genomics Consortium is a registered charity (number 1097737) that receives funds from AbbVie, Bayer Pharma AG, Boehringer Ingelheim, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Eshelman Institute for Innovation, Genome Canada through Ontario Genomics Institute (OGI-055), Innovative Medicines Initiative (EU/EFPIA) (ULTRA-DD grant no. 115766), Janssen, Merck & Co., Novartis Pharma AG, Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science (MRIS), Pfizer, São Paulo Research Foundation-FAPESP, Takeda, and the Wellcome Trust. Kinase off-target selectivity screening was kindly supplied by Eurofins-Cerep. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The opinions or assertions contained herein belong to the authors and are not necessarily the official views of the funders.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).


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