Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 92, Issue 4, pp 1609–1623 | Cite as

The development of an in vitro Pig-a assay in L5178Y cells

  • Rhiannon David
  • Emily Talbot
  • Bethany Allen
  • Amy Wilson
  • Usman Arshad
  • Ann Doherty
Genotoxicity and Carcinogenicity


A recent flow cytometry-based in vivo mutagenicity assay involves the hemizygous phosphatidylinositol class A (Pig-a) gene. Pig-a forms the catalytic subunit of N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase required for glycophosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor biosynthesis. Mutations in Pig-a prevent GPI-anchor synthesis resulting in loss of cell-surface GPI-linked proteins. The aim of the current study was to develop and validate an in vitro Pig-a assay in L5178Y mouse lymphoma cells. Ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS)-treated cells (186.24–558.72 µg/ml; 24 h) were used for method development and antibodies against GPI-linked CD90.2 and stably expressed CD45 were used to determine GPI-status by flow cytometry. Antibody concentration and incubation times were optimised (0.18 µg/ml, 30 min, 4 °C) and Zombie Violet™ (viability marker; 0.5%, 30 min, RT) was included. The optimum phenotypic expression period was 8 days. The low background mutation frequency of GPI-deficiency [GPI(−)] in L5178Y cells (0.1%) constitutes a rare event, thus flow cytometry acquisition parameters were optimised; 104 cells were measured at medium flow rate to ensure a CV ≤ 30%. Spiking known numbers of GPI(−) cells into a wild-type population gave high correlation between measured and spiked numbers (R2 0.999). We applied the in vitro Pig-a assay to a selection of well-validated genotoxic and non-genotoxic compounds. EMS, N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea and 4-nitroquinoline-N-oxide dose dependently increased numbers of GPI(−) cells, while etoposide, mitomycin C, and a bacterial-specific mutagen did not. Cycloheximide and sodium chloride were negative. Sanger sequencing revealed Pig-a mutations in the GPI(−) clones. In conclusion, this in vitro Pig-a assay could complement the in vivo version, and follow up weak Ames positives and late-stage human metabolites or impurities.


Mutation GPI anchor Flow cytometry Micronucleus Sequencing 



This work was funded by AstraZeneca.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors disclose no potential conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rhiannon David
    • 1
  • Emily Talbot
    • 1
  • Bethany Allen
    • 1
  • Amy Wilson
    • 1
  • Usman Arshad
    • 1
  • Ann Doherty
    • 1
  1. 1.Genetic Toxicology, Discovery Safety, Drug Safety and Metabolism, IMED Biotech UnitAstraZenecaCambridgeUK

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