Inhibitors of nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT) cause retinal damage in larval zebrafish


Nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT) has been investigated as a target for oncology because it catalyzes a rate-limiting step in cellular energy metabolism to produce nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. Small molecule inhibitors of NAMPT have been promising drug candidates but preclinical development has been hindered due to associated retinal toxicity. Here we demonstrate that larval zebrafish can predict retinal toxicity associated with this mechanism revealing an attractive alternative method for identifying such toxicities. Zebrafish permit higher throughput testing while using far lower quantities of test article compared to mammalian systems. NAMPT inhibitor-associated toxicity manifested in zebrafish as a loss of response to visual cues compared to auditory cues. Zebrafish retinal damage associated with NAMPT inhibitor treatment was confirmed through histopathology. Ranking six NAMPT inhibitors according to their impact on zebrafish vision revealed a positive correlation with their in vitro potencies on human tumor cells. This correlation indicates translatable pharmacodynamics between zebrafish and human NAMPT and is consistent with on-target activity as the cause of retinal toxicity associated with NAMPT inhibition. Together, these data illustrate the utility of zebrafish for identifying compounds that may cause ocular toxicity in mammals, and, likewise, for accelerating development of compounds with improved safety margins.