AbstractThe recent renascence of phenotypic drug discovery (PDD) is catalysed by its ability to identify first-in-class drugs and deliver results when the exact molecular mechanism is partially obscure. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a severe, life-threatening condition with a high mortality rate that has increased in frequency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite decades of laboratory and clinical study, no efficient pharmacological therapy for ARDS has been found. An increase in endothelial permeability is the primary event in ARDS onset, causing the development of pulmonary edema that leads to respiratory failure. Currently, the detailed molecular mechanisms regulating endothelial permeability are poorly understood. Therefore, the use of the PDD approach in the search for efficient ARDS treatment can be more productive than classic target-based drug discovery (TDD), but its use requires a new cell-based assay compatible with high-throughput (HTS) and high-content (HCS) screening. Here we report the development of a new plate-based image cytometry method to measure endothelial barrier function. The incorporation of image cytometry in combination with digital image analysis substantially decreases assay variability and increases the signal window. This new method simultaneously allows for rapid measurement of cell monolayer permeability and cytological analysis. The time-course of permeability increase in human pulmonary artery endothelial cells (HPAECs) in response to the thrombin and tumour necrosis factor alpha treatment correlates with previously published data obtained by transendothelial resistance (TER) measurements. Furthermore, the proposed image cytometry method can be easily adapted for HTS/HCS applications.