DSMO-Cell Painting Assay
Leiden High Content Analysis Team

Art of the Science: Cell Painting

A high-content image based assay that lights your cells up like a canvass

Charles River's Leiden site conducts high-impact science. Some of it also happens to be beautiful to look at. As part of a special feature depicting some of the great art being produced in scientific labs, we are featuring a colorful tool that helps us to amplify how drugs work. With us to help explain how this tool is used is Jeroen Esselink MSc, a scientist at the Leiden lab.    

Eureka: Describe the cell painting assay? 

JE: It is an in vitro phenotypic screening method in which cells are imaged after staining different subcellular structures with fluorescent dyes. Combined with computational biology, highly detailed morphological profiles of the cells are generated. These profiles can for example be used to identify the mechanism of action of novel drugs by comparing the induced morphological profile with the profiles of a set reference compounds.

Eureka: What are we looking at in these images?  

Leiden-Cell Painting Assay


JE: The images show how the morphology (i.e. shape, structure, form, texture) of a cell changes when they are exposed to a certain compound. At top left is a "DMSO" image that shows what the cells look like without any compound treatment. But when treating with etoposide (top right), cytochalasin D (bottom right) or colchicine (bottom left), they each induce a very different morphology of the cell. For instance, treatment with colchicine results in these long shaped cells, which is very different compared to DSMO. 

Eureka: How long have you been using this assay and how is it better than more conventional methods?

JE: The assay has been up and running here for approximately 3 months. The great thing about this assay is the immense amount of information that it provides compared to conventional ‘targeted’ assays. In targeted assays you look for an effect of compound ‘A’ on a very specific biological process ‘X’. This means that if compound ‘A’ affects process ‘Y’, it will go unnoticed. With Cell Painting, you can look for effects of compound ‘A’ on dozens of different biological processes at the same time, in just one assay. 

Eureka: Tell us something fun about the Leiden team?

JE: Actually, all our meeting rooms here in Leiden are named after famous Dutch painters (Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Mondriaan, to name a few). I guess the cell painting assay was destined to be set up here in Leiden.

These images were generated by the Leiden High Content Analysis team, which is part of Charles River's Early Discovery team. The Leiden High Content Analysis Team provides high content related support to projects in Early Discovery, enabling Clients to advance drug discovery programs through accurate and rapid quantification of complex cellular systems. This story is part of our Art of the Science series, where we showcase the amazing  scientific art (images, movies and cartoons) created by Charles River scientists and outside scientists in the lab. Do you have a good idea for Art of the Science? Contact [email protected]