A pharmacologically validated, high-capacity, functional thallium flux assay for the human Ether-à-go-go related gene potassium channel

Assay Drug Dev Technol. 2010 Dec;8(6):714-26. doi: 10.1089/adt.2010.0351.


The voltage-gated potassium channel, human Ether-à-go-go related gene (hERG), represents the molecular component of IKr, one of the potassium currents involved in cardiac action potential repolarization. Inhibition of IKr increases the duration of the ventricular action potential, reflected as a prolongation of the QT interval in the electrocardiogram, and increases the risk for potentially fatal ventricular arrhythmias. Because hERG is an appropriate surrogate for IKr, hERG assays that can identify potential safety liabilities of compounds during lead identification and optimization have been implemented. Although the gold standard for hERG evaluation is electrophysiology, this technique, even with the medium capacity, automated instruments that are currently available, does not meet the throughput demands for supporting typical medicinal chemistry efforts in the pharmaceutical environment. Assays that could provide reliable molecular pharmacology data, while operating in high capacity mode, are therefore desirable. In the present study, we describe a high-capacity, 384- and 1,536-well plate, functional thallium flux assay for the hERG channel that fulfills these criteria. This assay was optimized and validated using different structural classes of hERG inhibitors. An excellent correlation was found between the potency of these agents in the thallium flux assay and in electrophysiological recordings of channel activity using the QPatch automated patch platform. Extension of this study to include 991 medicinal chemistry compounds from different internal drug development programs indicated that the thallium flux assay was a good predictor of in vitro hERG activity. These data suggest that the hERG thallium flux assay can play an important role in supporting drug development efforts.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels / genetics
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels / physiology
  • HEK293 Cells
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays*
  • Humans
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Potassium Channel Blockers / pharmacology*
  • Thallium / metabolism


  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels
  • Potassium Channel Blockers
  • Thallium