SLAS DISCOVERY: Advancing Life Sciences R&D 25 (2) 118-126 [2020-02-00; online 2019-10-30]
The cellular thermal shift assay (CETSA) was introduced in 2013 to investigate drug-target engagement inside live cells and tissues. As with all thermal shift assays, the response measured by CETSA is not simply governed by ligand affinity to the investigated target protein, but the thermodynamics and kinetics of ligand binding and protein unfolding also contribute to the observed protein stabilization. This limitation is commonly neglected in current applications of the method to validate the target of small-molecule probes. Instead, there is an eagerness to make direct comparisons of CETSA measurements with functional and phenotypic readouts from cells at 37 °C. Here, we present a perspective of the early CETSA literature and put the accumulated data into a quantitative context. The analysis includes annotation of ~270 peer-reviewed papers, the majority of which do not consider the underlying biophysical basis of CETSA. We also detail what future technology developments are needed to enable CETSA-based optimization of structure-activity relationships and more appropriate comparisons of these data with functional or phenotypic responses. Finally, we describe ongoing developments in assay formats that allow for CETSA measurements at single-cell resolution, with the aspiration to allow differentiation in cellular target engagement between cells in co-cultures and more complex models, such as organoids and potentially even tissue.