Compounds can be screened for pharmaceutical activity either by detecting interactions with specified target molecules such as receptors or enzymes (molecular screening) or observing effects on the structure or physiological activities of cells or tissues (phenotypic screening). Screening at the molecular level has been greatly enhanced by fluorescence methods. Especially the combination of confocal detection with measurements of the amplitudes and time courses of fluorescence fluctuations have reduced sample volumes to < microliters and have increased throughputs to > 100,000 compounds per day. Screening at the molecular level, however, does not provide information about the effects of test compounds on cellular functions. Phenotypic screening, although much slower than molecular screening, does provide information about effects on cell or tissue structure or function and therefore can be used to eliminate at an early stage compounds that are toxic or do not produce the desired cellular response. Tissue constructs reconstituted using cells of specified types and defined extracellular matrix components provide test systems for detecting the effects of test compounds on cellular mechanical functions such as the development of contractile force and on cell and matrix structure and stiffness. For example, constructs based on vascular smooth muscle cells provide information about effects on cellular contractile force that can be used to identify agents that control blood pressure. Tissue constructs that mimic skeletal, smooth and heart muscles and connective tissues have been produced and can be used to study mechanical and structural responses to active compounds.
Keywords: phenotypic screening, tissue constructs, high throughput screening, tissue mechanics
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