Cell-based high content screening (HCS) is becoming an important and increasingly favored approach in therapeutic drug discovery and functional genomics. In HCS, changes in cellular morphology and biomarker distributions provide an information-rich profile of cellular responses to experimental treatments such as small molecules or gene knockdown probes. One obstacle that currently exists with such cell-based assays is the availability of image processing algorithms that are capable of reliably and automatically analyzing large HCS image sets. HCS images of primary neuronal cell cultures are particularly challenging to analyze due to complex cellular morphology. Here we present a robust method for quantifying and statistically analyzing the morphology of neuronal cells in HCS images. The major advantages of our method over existing software lie in its capability to correct non-uniform illumination using the contrast-limited adaptive histogram equalization method; segment neuromeres using Gabor-wavelet texture analysis; and detect faint neurites by a novel phase-based neurite extraction algorithm that is invariant to changes in illumination and contrast and can accurately localize neurites. Our method was successfully applied to analyze a large HCS image set generated in a morphology screen for polyglutamine-mediated neuronal toxicity using primary neuronal cell cultures derived from embryos of a Drosophila Huntington's Disease (HD) model.
RNA interference (RNAi) leads to sequence-specific knockdown of gene function. The approach can be used in large-scale screens to interrogate function in various model organisms and an increasing number of other species. Genome-scale RNAi screens are routinely performed in cultured or primary cells or in vivo in organisms such as C. elegans. High-throughput RNAi screening is benefitting from the development of sophisticated new instrumentation and software tools for collecting and analyzing data, including high-content image data. The results of large-scale RNAi screens have already proved useful, leading to new understandings of gene function relevant to topics such as infection, cancer, obesity, and aging. Nevertheless, important caveats apply and should be taken into consideration when developing or interpreting RNAi screens. Some level of false discovery is inherent to high-throughput approaches and specific to RNAi screens, false discovery due to off-target effects (OTEs) of RNAi reagents remains a problem. The need to improve our ability to use RNAi to elucidate gene function at large scale and in additional systems continues to be addressed through improved RNAi library design, development of innovative computational and analysis tools and other approaches.
A large fraction of our genome consists of mobile genetic elements. Governing transposons in germ cells is critically important, and failure to do so compromises genome integrity, leading to sterility. In animals, the piRNA pathway is the key to transposon constraint, yet the precise molecular details of how piRNAs are formed and how the pathway represses mobile elements remain poorly understood. In an effort to identify general requirements for transposon control and components of the piRNA pathway, we carried out a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila ovarian somatic sheet cells. We identified and validated 87 genes necessary for transposon silencing. Among these were several piRNA biogenesis factors. We also found CG3893 (asterix) to be essential for transposon silencing, most likely by contributing to the effector step of transcriptional repression. Asterix loss leads to decreases in H3K9me3 marks on certain transposons but has no effect on piRNA levels.
Gene silencing through sequence-specific targeting of mRNAs by RNAi has enabled genome-wide functional screens in cultured cells and in vivo in model organisms. These screens have resulted in the identification of new cellular pathways and potential drug targets. Considerable progress has been made to improve the quality of RNAi screen data through the development of new experimental and bioinformatics approaches. The recent availability of genome-editing strategies, such as the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-Cas9 system, when combined with RNAi, could lead to further improvements in screen data quality and follow-up experiments, thus promoting our understanding of gene function and gene regulatory networks.
Cytokinesis involves temporally and spatially coordinated action of the cell cycle and cytoskeletal and membrane systems to achieve separation of daughter cells. To dissect cytokinesis mechanisms it would be useful to have a complete catalog of the proteins involved, and small molecule tools for specifically inhibiting them with tight temporal control. Finding active small molecules by cell-based screening entails the difficult step of identifying their targets. We performed parallel chemical genetic and genome-wide RNA interference screens in Drosophila cells, identifying 50 small molecule inhibitors of cytokinesis and 214 genes important for cytokinesis, including a new protein in the Aurora B pathway (Borr). By comparing small molecule and RNAi phenotypes, we identified a small molecule that inhibits the Aurora B kinase pathway. Our protein list provides a starting point for systematic dissection of cytokinesis, a direction that will be greatly facilitated by also having diverse small molecule inhibitors, which we have identified. Dissection of the Aurora B pathway, where we found a new gene and a specific small molecule inhibitor, should benefit particularly. Our study shows that parallel RNA interference and small molecule screening is a generally useful approach to identifying active small molecules and their target pathways.
During infection by diverse viral families, RNA replication occurs on the surface of virally induced cytoplasmic membranes of cellular origin. How this process is regulated, and which cellular factors are required, has been unclear. Moreover, the host-pathogen interactions that facilitate the formation of this new compartment might represent critical determinants of viral pathogenesis, and their elucidation may lead to novel insights into the coordination of vesicular trafficking events during infection. Here we show that in Drosophila cells, Drosophila C virus remodels the Golgi apparatus and forms a novel vesicular compartment, on the surface of which viral RNA replication takes place. Using genome-wide RNA interference screening, we found that this step in the viral lifecycle requires at least two host encoded pathways: the coat protein complex I (COPI) coatamer and fatty acid biosynthesis. Our results integrate, clarify, and extend numerous observations concerning the cell biology of viral replication, allowing us to conclude that the coupling of new cellular membrane formation with the budding of these vesicles from the Golgi apparatus allows for the regulated generation of this new virogenic organelle, which is essential for viral replication. Additionally, because these pathways are also limiting in flies and in human cells infected with the related RNA virus poliovirus, they may represent novel targets for antiviral therapies.
Few components of the mitochondrial fission machinery are known, even though mitochondrial fission is a complex process of vital importance for cell growth and survival. Here, we describe a novel protein that controls mitochondrial fission. This protein was identified in a small interfering RNA (siRNA) screen using Drosophila cells. The human homologue of this protein was named Mitochondrial fission factor (Mff). Mitochondria of cells transfected with Mff siRNA form a closed network similar to the mitochondrial networks formed when cells are transfected with siRNA for two established fission proteins, Drp1 and Fis1. Like Drp1 and Fis1 siRNA, Mff siRNA also inhibits fission induced by loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, it delays cytochrome c release from mitochondria and further progression of apoptosis, and it inhibits peroxisomal fission. Mff and Fis1 are both tail anchored in the mitochondrial outer membrane, but other parts of these proteins are very different and they exist in separate 200-kDa complexes, suggesting that they play different roles in the fission process. We conclude that Mff is a novel component of a conserved membrane fission pathway used for constitutive and induced fission of mitochondria and peroxisomes.
Mitochondria are integral components of cellular calcium (Ca2+) signaling. Calcium stimulates mitochondrial adenosine 5'-triphosphate production, but can also initiate apoptosis. In turn, cytoplasmic Ca2+ concentrations are regulated by mitochondria. Although several transporter and ion-channel mechanisms have been measured in mitochondria, the molecules that govern Ca2+ movement across the inner mitochondrial membrane are unknown. We searched for genes that regulate mitochondrial Ca2+ and H+ concentrations using a genome-wide Drosophila RNA interference (RNAi) screen. The mammalian homolog of one Drosophila gene identified in the screen, Letm1, was found to specifically mediate coupled Ca2+/H+ exchange. RNAi knockdown, overexpression, and liposome reconstitution of the purified Letm1 protein demonstrate that Letm1 is a mitochondrial Ca2+/H+ antiporter.
The DNA damage checkpoint, the first pathway known to be activated in response to DNA damage, is a mechanism by which the cell cycle is temporarily arrested to allow DNA repair. The checkpoint pathway transmits signals from the sites of DNA damage to the cell cycle machinery through the evolutionarily conserved ATM (ataxia telangiectasia mutated) and ATR (ATM- and Rad3-related) kinase cascades. We conducted a genome-wide RNAi (RNA interference) screen in Drosophila cells to identify previously unknown genes and pathways required for the G₂-M checkpoint induced by DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). Our large-scale analysis provided a systems-level view of the G₂-M checkpoint and revealed the coordinated actions of particular classes of proteins, which include those involved in DNA repair, DNA replication, cell cycle control, chromatin regulation, and RNA processing. Further, from the screen and in vivo analysis, we identified previously unrecognized roles of two DNA damage response genes, mus101 and mus312. Our results suggest that the DNA replication preinitiation complex, which includes MUS101, and the MUS312-containing nuclease complexes, which are important for DSB repair, also function in the G₂-M checkpoint. Our results provide insight into the diverse mechanisms that link DNA damage and the checkpoint signaling pathway.
When cells swell in hypo-osmotic solutions, chloride-selective ion channels (Cl(swell)) activate to reduce intracellular osmolality and prevent catastrophic cell rupture. Despite intensive efforts to assign a molecular identity to the mammalian Cl(swell) channel, it remains unknown. In an unbiased genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screen of Drosophila cells stably expressing an anion-sensitive fluorescent indicator, we identify Bestrophin 1 (dBest1) as the Drosophila Cl(swell) channel. Of the 23 screen hits with mammalian homologs and predicted transmembrane domains, only RNAi specifically targeting dBest1 eliminated the Cl(swell) current (I(Clswell)). We further demonstrate the essential contribution of dBest1 to Drosophila I(Clswell) with the introduction of a human Bestrophin disease-associated mutation (W94C). Overexpression of the W94C construct in Drosophila cells significantly reduced the endogenous I(Clswell). We confirm that exogenous expression of dBest1 alone in human embryonic kidney (HEK293) cells creates a clearly identifiable Drosophila-like I(Clswell). In contrast, activation of mouse Bestrophin 2 (mBest2), the closest mammalian ortholog of dBest1, is swell-insensitive. The first 64 residues of dBest1 conferred swell activation to mBest2. The chimera, however, maintains mBest2-like pore properties, strongly indicating that the Bestrophin protein forms the Cl(swell) channel itself rather than functioning as an essential auxiliary subunit. dBest1 is an anion channel clearly responsive to swell; this activation depends upon its N-terminus.
The ability to engineer genomes in a specific, systematic, and cost-effective way is critical for functional genomic studies. Recent advances using the CRISPR-associated single-guide RNA system (Cas9/sgRNA) illustrate the potential of this simple system for genome engineering in a number of organisms. Here we report an effective and inexpensive method for genome DNA editing in Drosophila melanogaster whereby plasmid DNAs encoding short sgRNAs under the control of the U6b promoter are injected into transgenic flies in which Cas9 is specifically expressed in the germ line via the nanos promoter. We evaluate the off-targets associated with the method and establish a Web-based resource, along with a searchable, genome-wide database of predicted sgRNAs appropriate for genome engineering in flies. Finally, we discuss the advantages of our method in comparison with other recently published approaches.
To facilitate large-scale functional studies in Drosophila, the Drosophila Transgenic RNAi Project (TRiP) at Harvard Medical School (HMS) was established along with several goals: developing efficient vectors for RNAi that work in all tissues, generating a genome-scale collection of RNAi stocks with input from the community, distributing the lines as they are generated through existing stock centers, validating as many lines as possible using RT-qPCR and phenotypic analyses, and developing tools and web resources for identifying RNAi lines and retrieving existing information on their quality. With these goals in mind, here we describe in detail the various tools we developed and the status of the collection, which is currently composed of 11,491 lines and covering 71% of Drosophila genes. Data on the characterization of the lines either by RT-qPCR or phenotype is available on a dedicated website, the RNAi Stock Validation and Phenotypes Project (RSVP, http://www.flyrnai.org/RSVP.html), and stocks are available from three stock centers, the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center (United States), National Institute of Genetics (Japan), and TsingHua Fly Center (China).
Yeast genetics and in vitro biochemical analysis have identified numerous genes involved in protein secretion. As compared with yeast, however, the metazoan secretory pathway is more complex and many mechanisms that regulate organization of the Golgi apparatus remain poorly characterized. We performed a genome-wide RNA-mediated interference screen in a Drosophila cell line to identify genes required for constitutive protein secretion. We then classified the genes on the basis of the effect of their depletion on organization of the Golgi membranes. Here we show that depletion of class A genes redistributes Golgi membranes into the endoplasmic reticulum, depletion of class B genes leads to Golgi fragmentation, depletion of class C genes leads to aggregation of Golgi membranes, and depletion of class D genes causes no obvious change. Of the 20 new gene products characterized so far, several localize to the Golgi membranes and the endoplasmic reticulum.
Chlamydia spp. are intracellular obligate bacterial pathogens that infect a wide range of host cells. Here, we show that C. caviae enters, replicates, and performs a complete developmental cycle in Drosophila SL2 cells. Using this model system, we have performed a genome-wide RNA interference screen and identified 54 factors that, when depleted, inhibit C. caviae infection. By testing the effect of each candidate's knock down on L. monocytogenes infection, we have identified 31 candidates presumably specific of C. caviae infection. We found factors expected to have an effect on Chlamydia infection, such as heparansulfate glycosaminoglycans and actin and microtubule remodeling factors. We also identified factors that were not previously described as involved in Chlamydia infection. For instance, we identified members of the Tim-Tom complex, a multiprotein complex involved in the recognition and import of nuclear-encoded proteins to the mitochondria, as required for C. caviae infection of Drosophila cells. Finally, we confirmed that depletion of either Tom40 or Tom22 also reduced C. caviae infection in mammalian cells. However, C. trachomatis infection was not affected, suggesting that the mechanism involved is C. caviae specific.
Centromeres are the structural and functional foundation for kinetochore formation, spindle attachment, and chromosome segregation. In this study, we isolated factors required for centromere propagation using genome-wide RNA interference screening for defects in centromere protein A (CENP-A; centromere identifier [CID]) localization in Drosophila melanogaster. We identified the proteins CAL1 and CENP-C as essential factors for CID assembly at the centromere. CID, CAL1, and CENP-C coimmunoprecipitate and are mutually dependent for centromere localization and function. We also identified the mitotic cyclin A (CYCA) and the anaphase-promoting complex (APC) inhibitor RCA1/Emi1 as regulators of centromere propagation. We show that CYCA is centromere localized and that CYCA and RCA1/Emi1 couple centromere assembly to the cell cycle through regulation of the fizzy-related/CDH1 subunit of the APC. Our findings identify essential components of the epigenetic machinery that ensures proper specification and propagation of the centromere and suggest a mechanism for coordinating centromere inheritance with cell division.