Phenotypic Screening Following Transcriptomic Deconvolution to Identify Transcription Factors Mediating Axon Growth Induced by a Kinase Inhibitor

Jeffrey A. Lowell, Nicholas O’Neill, Matt C. Danzi, Hassan Al-Ali, John Bixby, Vance Lemmon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


After injury to the central nervous system (CNS), both neuron-intrinsic limitations on regenerative responses and inhibitory factors in the injured CNS environment restrict regenerative axon growth. Instances of successful axon regrowth offer opportunities to identify features that differentiate these situations from that of the normal adult CNS. One such opportunity is provided by the kinase inhibitor RO48, which dramatically enhances neurite outgrowth of neurons in vitro and substantially increased contralateral sprouting of corticospinal tract neurons when infused intraventricularly following unilateral pyramidotomy. The authors present here a transcriptomic deconvolution of RO48-associated axon growth, with the goal of identifying transcriptional regulators associated with axon growth in the CNS. Through the use of RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) and transcription factor binding site enrichment analysis, the authors identified a list of transcription factors putatively driving differential gene expression during RO48-induced neurite outgrowth of rat hippocampal neurons in vitro. The 82 transcription factor motifs identified in this way included some with known association to axon growth regulation, such as Jun, Klf4, Myc, Atf4, Stat3, and Nfatc2, and many with no known association to axon growth. A phenotypic loss-of-function screen was carried out to evaluate these transcription factors for their roles in neurite outgrowth; this screen identified several potential outgrowth regulators. Subsequent validation suggests that the Forkhead box (Fox) family transcription factor Foxp2 restricts neurite outgrowth, while FoxO subfamily members Foxo1 and Foxo3a promote neurite outgrowth. The authors’ combined transcriptomic-phenotypic screening strategy therefore allowed identification of novel transcriptional regulators of neurite outgrowth downstream of a multitarget kinase inhibitor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSLAS Discovery
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • axon regeneration
  • high-content screening
  • hippocampal neuron
  • polypharmacology
  • siRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine


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