A high-throughput screen for the identification of compounds that inhibit nematode gene expression by targeting spliced leader trans-splicing

Int J Parasitol Drugs Drug Resist. 2019 Aug;10:28-37. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpddr.2019.04.001. Epub 2019 Apr 5.


Infections with parasitic nematodes are among the most significant of the neglected tropical diseases affecting about a billion people living mainly in tropical regions with low economic activity. The most effective current strategy to control nematode infections involves large scale treatment programs with anthelmintic drugs. This strategy is at risk from the emergence of drug resistant parasites. Parasitic nematodes also affect livestock, which are treated with the same limited group of anthelmintic drugs. Livestock parasites resistant to single drugs, and even multi-drug resistant parasites, are appearing in many areas. There is therefore a pressing need for new anthelmintic drugs. Here we use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model for parasitic nematodes and demonstrate that sinefungin, a competitive inhibitor of methyltransferases, causes a delay in development and reduced fecundity, and inhibits spliced leader trans-splicing. Spliced leader trans-splicing is an essential step in gene expression that does not occur in the hosts of parasitic nematodes, and is therefore a potential target for new anthelmintic drugs. We have exploited the ability of sinefungin to inhibit spliced leader trans-splicing to adapt a green fluorescent protein based reporter gene assay that monitors spliced leader trans-splicing for high-throughput screening for new anthelmintic compounds. We have established a protocol for robust high-throughput screening, combining mechanical dispensing of living C. elegans into 384- or 1536- well plates with addition of compounds using an acoustic liquid dispenser, and the detection of the inhibition of SL trans-splicing using a microplate reader. We have tested this protocol in a first pilot screen and envisage that this assay will be a valuable tool in the search for new anthelmintic drugs.

Keywords: Anthelminitics; Caenorhabditis elegans; HTS assay; SL1 trans-splicing; Sinefungin.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthelmintics / pharmacology*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / drug effects*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / instrumentation
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / instrumentation
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / methods
  • RNA, Spliced Leader / genetics*
  • Trans-Splicing / drug effects*


  • Anthelmintics
  • RNA, Spliced Leader