Characterization of GABAA receptor ligands with automated patch-clamp using human neurons derived from pluripotent stem cells

N Y Yuan et al.
J Pharmacol Toxicol Methods, 82 (2016) 109–114 


Automated patch clamp is a recent but widely used technology to assess pre-clinical drug safety. With the availability of human neurons derived from pluripotent stem cells, this technology can be extended to determine CNS effects of drug candidates, especially those acting on the GABAA receptor.

iCell Neurons (Cellular Dynamics International, A Fujifilm Company) were cultured for ten days and analyzed by patch clamp in the presence of agonist GABA or in combination with positive allosteric GABAA receptor modulators. Both efficacy and affinity were determined. In addition, mRNA of GABAA receptor subunits were quantified by qRT-PCR.

We have shown that iCell Neurons are compatible with the IonFlux microfluidic system of the automated patch clamp instrument. Resistance ranging from 15 to 25 MΩ was achieved for each trap channel of patch clamped cells in a 96-well plate format. GABA induced a robust change of current with an EC50 of 0.43 μM. Positive GABAA receptor modulators diazepam, HZ166, and CW-04-020 exhibited EC50 values of 0.42 μM, 1.56 μM, and 0.23 μM, respectively. The α2/α3/α5 selective compound HZ166-induced the highest potentiation (efficacy) of 810% of the current induced by 100 nM GABA. Quantification of GABAA receptor mRNA in iCell Neurons revealed high levels of α5 and β3 subunits and low levels of α1, which is similar to the configuration in human neonatal brain.

iCell Neurons represent a new cellular model to characterize GABAergic compounds using automated patch clamp. These cells have excellent representation of cellular GABAA receptor distribution that enable determination of total small molecule efficacy and affinity as measured by cell membrane current change.