An immunogenic cell injury module for the single-cell multiplexed activity metabolomics platform to identify promising anti-cancer natural products

J Biol Chem. 2022 Sep;298(9):102300. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2022.102300. Epub 2022 Aug 2.


Natural products constitute and significantly impact many current anti-cancer medical interventions. A subset of natural products induces injury processes in malignant cells that recruit and activate host immune cells to produce an adaptive anti-cancer immune response, a process known as immunogenic cell death. However, a challenge in the field is to delineate forms of cell death and injury that best promote durable antitumor immunity. Addressing this with a single-cell chemical biology natural product discovery platform, like multiplex activity metabolomics, would be especially valuable in human leukemia, where cancer cells are heterogeneous and may react differently to the same compounds. Herein, a new ten-color, fluorescent cell barcoding-compatible module measuring six immunogenic cell injury signaling readouts are as follows: DNA damage response (γH2AX), apoptosis (cCAS3), necroptosis (p-MLKL), mitosis (p-Histone H3), autophagy (LC3), and the unfolded protein response (p-EIF2α). A proof-of-concept screen was performed to validate functional changes in single cells induced by secondary metabolites with known mechanisms within bacterial extracts. This assay was then applied in multiplexed activity metabolomics to reveal an unexpected mammalian cell injury profile induced by the natural product narbomycin. Finally, the functional consequences of injury pathways on immunogenicity were compared with three canonical assays for immunogenic hallmarks, ATP, HMGB1, and calreticulin, to correlate secondary metabolite-induced cell injury profiles with canonical markers of immunogenic cell death. In total, this work demonstrated a new phenotypic screen for discovery of natural products that modulate injury response pathways that can contribute to cancer immunogenicity.

Keywords: drug discovery; flow cytometry; high-throughput screening; immunogenic; metabolomics; natural product.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / isolation & purification
  • Antineoplastic Agents* / pharmacology
  • Biological Products* / isolation & purification
  • Biological Products* / pharmacology
  • Biomarkers
  • Calreticulin / metabolism
  • Cell Death / immunology
  • HMGB1 Protein* / metabolism
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Metabolomics* / methods
  • Neoplasms* / immunology
  • Single-Cell Analysis*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biological Products
  • Biomarkers
  • Calreticulin
  • HMGB1 Protein
  • Histones
  • Adenosine Triphosphate