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Papers of the Week

Papers: 11 Nov 2023 - 17 Nov 2023

2023 Nov 14



Editor's Pick

A phenotypic screening platform for chronic pain therapeutics using all-optical electrophysiology.


Liu PW, Zhang H, Werley CA, Pichler M, Ryan SJ, Lewarch CL, Jacques J, Grooms J, Ferrante J, Li G, Zhang D, Bremmer N, Barnett A, Chantre R, Elder AE, Cohen AE, Williams LA, Dempsey GT, McManus OB


Chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis (OA) remains an intractable problem with few effective treatment options. New approaches are needed to model the disease biology and to drive discovery of therapeutics. We present an in vitro model of OA pain, where dorsal root ganglion (DRG) sensory neurons were sensitized by a defined mixture of disease-relevant inflammatory mediators, here called Sensitizing PAin Reagent Composition or SPARC. Osteoarthritis-SPARC components showed synergistic or additive effects when applied in combination and induced pain phenotypes in vivo. To measure the effect of OA-SPARC on neural firing in a scalable format, we used a custom system for high throughput all-optical electrophysiology. This system enabled light-based membrane voltage recordings from hundreds of neurons in parallel with single cell and single action potential resolution and a throughput of up to 500,000 neurons per day. A computational framework was developed to construct a multiparameter OA-SPARC neuronal phenotype and to quantitatively assess phenotype reversal by candidate pharmacology. We screened ∼3000 approved drugs and mechanistically focused compounds, yielding data from over 1.2 million individual neurons with detailed assessment of functional OA-SPARC phenotype rescue and orthogonal “off-target” effects. Analysis of confirmed hits revealed diverse potential analgesic mechanisms including ion channel modulators and other mechanisms including MEK inhibitors and tyrosine kinase modulators. Our results suggest that the Raf-MEK-ERK axis in DRG neurons may integrate the inputs from multiple upstream inflammatory mediators found in osteoarthritis patient joints, and MAPK pathway activation in DRG neurons may contribute to chronic pain in patients with osteoarthritis.