Detection of Chemical Engagement of Solute Carrier Proteins by a Cellular Thermal Shift Assay

ACS Chem Biol. 2018 Jun 15;13(6):1480-1486. doi: 10.1021/acschembio.8b00270. Epub 2018 Jun 6.


Solute carriers (SLCs) are transmembrane proteins that transport various nutrients, metabolites, and drugs across cellular membranes. Despite the relevance of SLCs to cell homeostasis, metabolism, and disease states, for the majority of SLCs we lack experimental evidence regarding the nature of the cognate ligands, whether endobiotic or xenobiotic. Moreover, even for the roughly 20 SLCs for which inhibitors have been characterized, engagement assays in cells are limited to the accessibility of radiolabeled or fluorescent probes. The cellular thermal shift assay (CETSA) has been introduced as a powerful method to assess target engagement by monitoring ligand-induced changes in the thermal stability of cellular proteins. We addressed the question of whether CETSA could be modified to become routinely applicable to membrane transporters such as SLCs. We used SLC16A1 (MCT1) and SLC1A2 (EAAT2) as targets to establish robust conditions by which chemical engagement of SLCs can be detected. Using immunoblotting, we demonstrate that treatment with the SLC16A1 inhibitors AZD3965 and AR-C155858 stabilized endogenous SLC16A1 in HEK293 cell lysates as well as intact cells. In addition, the high-affinity ligand of SLC16A1, l-lactate, and the low-affinity ligand, formate, resulted in strong and weak stabilization of SLC16A1, respectively. Moreover, we observed stabilization of SLC1A2 upon treatment with the selective inhibitor WAY-213613. We propose that the experimental approach presented here should be generally and easily applicable for monitoring the engagement of chemical ligands by SLCs in cellular settings and thus assisting in their deorphanization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Assay / methods*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 2
  • Formates / metabolism
  • Glutamate Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glutamate Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Heating
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Stability
  • Pyrimidinones / metabolism
  • Thiophenes / metabolism
  • Uracil / analogs & derivatives
  • Uracil / metabolism


  • AR C155858
  • AZD3965
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Transporter 2
  • Formates
  • Glutamate Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Ligands
  • Monocarboxylic Acid Transporters
  • Pyrimidinones
  • SLC16A11 protein, human
  • SLC1A2 protein, human
  • Thiophenes
  • formic acid
  • Lactic Acid
  • Uracil