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A drug-repositioning screen using splicing-sensitive fluorescent reporters identifies novel modulators of VEGF-A splicing with anti-angiogenic properties.

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Star, Eleanor 
Stevens, Megan 
Gooding, Clare 
Smith, Christopher W J  ORCID logo
Li, Ling 


Alternative splicing of the vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) terminal exon generates two protein families with differing functions. Pro-angiogenic VEGF-Axxxa isoforms are produced via selection of the proximal 3' splice site of the terminal exon. Use of an alternative distal splice site generates the anti-angiogenic VEGF-Axxxb proteins. A bichromatic splicing-sensitive reporter was designed to mimic VEGF-A alternative splicing and was used as a molecular tool to further investigate this alternative splicing event. Part of VEGF-A's terminal exon and preceding intron were inserted into a minigene construct followed by the coding sequences for two fluorescent proteins. A different fluorescent protein is expressed depending on which 3' splice site of the exon is used during splicing (dsRED denotes VEGF-Axxxa and EGFP denotes VEGF-Axxxb). The fluorescent output can be used to follow splicing decisions in vitro and in vivo. Following successful reporter validation in different cell lines and altering splicing using known modulators, a screen was performed using the LOPAC library of small molecules. Alterations to reporter splicing were measured using a fluorescent plate reader to detect dsRED and EGFP expression. Compounds of interest were further validated using flow cytometry and assessed for effects on endogenous VEGF-A alternative splicing at the mRNA and protein level. Ex vivo and in vitro angiogenesis assays were used to demonstrate the anti-angiogenic effect of the compounds. Furthermore, anti-angiogenic activity was investigated in a Matrigel in vivo model. To conclude, we have identified a set of compounds that have anti-angiogenic activity through modulation of VEGF-A terminal exon splicing.



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