Single-gene knockout experiments can fail to reveal function in the context of redundancy, which is frequently observed among duplicated genes (paralogs) with overlapping functions. We discuss the complexity associated with studying paralogs and outline how recent advances in CRISPR will help address the "phenotype gap" and impact biomedical research.
One of the most powerful ways to develop hypotheses regarding biological functions of conserved genes in a given species, such as in humans, is to first look at what is known about function in another species. Model organism databases (MODs) and other resources are rich with functional information but difficult to mine. Gene2Function (G2F) addresses a broad need by integrating information about conserved genes in a single online resource.
One major challenge encountered with interpreting human genetic variants is the limited understanding of the functional impact of genetic alterations on biological processes. Furthermore, there remains an unmet demand for an efficient survey of the wealth of information on human homologs in model organisms across numerous databases. To efficiently assess the large volume of publically available information, it is important to provide a concise summary of the most relevant information in a rapid user-friendly format. To this end, we created MARRVEL (model organism aggregated resources for rare variant exploration). MARRVEL is a publicly available website that integrates information from six human genetic databases and seven model organism databases. For any given variant or gene, MARRVEL displays information from OMIM, ExAC, ClinVar, Geno2MP, DGV, and DECIPHER. Importantly, it curates model organism-specific databases to concurrently display a concise summary regarding the human gene homologs in budding and fission yeast, worm, fly, fish, mouse, and rat on a single webpage. Experiment-based information on tissue expression, protein subcellular localization, biological process, and molecular function for the human gene and homologs in the seven model organisms are arranged into a concise output. Hence, rather than visiting multiple separate databases for variant and gene analysis, users can obtain important information by searching once through MARRVEL. Altogether, MARRVEL dramatically improves efficiency and accessibility to data collection and facilitates analysis of human genes and variants by cross-disciplinary integration of 18 million records available in public databases to facilitate clinical diagnosis and basic research.
Our understanding of the genetic mechanisms that underlie biological processes has relied extensively on loss-of-function (LOF) analyses. LOF methods target DNA, RNA or protein to reduce or to ablate gene function. By analysing the phenotypes that are caused by these perturbations the wild-type function of genes can be elucidated. Although all LOF methods reduce gene activity, the choice of approach (for example, mutagenesis, CRISPR-based gene editing, RNA interference, morpholinos or pharmacological inhibition) can have a major effect on phenotypic outcomes. Interpretation of the LOF phenotype must take into account the biological process that is targeted by each method. The practicality and efficiency of LOF methods also vary considerably between model systems. We describe parameters for choosing the optimal combination of method and system, and for interpreting phenotypes within the constraints of each method.
The FlyRNAi database of the Drosophila RNAi Screening Center (DRSC) and Transgenic RNAi Project (TRiP) at Harvard Medical School and associated DRSC/TRiP Functional Genomics Resources website (http://fgr.hms.harvard.edu) serve as a reagent production tracking system, screen data repository, and portal to the community. Through this portal, we make available protocols, online tools, and other resources useful to researchers at all stages of high-throughput functional genomics screening, from assay design and reagent identification to data analysis and interpretation. In this update, we describe recent changes and additions to our website, database and suite of online tools. Recent changes reflect a shift in our focus from a single technology (RNAi) and model species (Drosophila) to the application of additional technologies (e.g. CRISPR) and support of integrated, cross-species approaches to uncovering gene function using functional genomics and other approaches.
The protein-protein interaction (PPI) network is crucial for cellular information processing and decision-making. With suitable inputs, PPI networks drive the cells to diverse functional outcomes such as cell proliferation or cell death. Here, we characterize the structural controllability of a large directed human PPI network comprising 6,339 proteins and 34,813 interactions. This network allows us to classify proteins as "indispensable," "neutral," or "dispensable," which correlates to increasing, no effect, or decreasing the number of driver nodes in the network upon removal of that protein. We find that 21% of the proteins in the PPI network are indispensable. Interestingly, these indispensable proteins are the primary targets of disease-causing mutations, human viruses, and drugs, suggesting that altering a network's control property is critical for the transition between healthy and disease states. Furthermore, analyzing copy number alterations data from 1,547 cancer patients reveals that 56 genes that are frequently amplified or deleted in nine different cancers are indispensable. Among the 56 genes, 46 of them have not been previously associated with cancer. This suggests that controllability analysis is very useful in identifying novel disease genes and potential drug targets.
Alkylating agents are a key component of cancer chemotherapy. Several cellular mechanisms are known to be important for its survival, particularly DNA repair and xenobiotic detoxification, yet genomic screens indicate that additional cellular components may be involved. Elucidating these components has value in either identifying key processes that can be modulated to improve chemotherapeutic efficacy or may be altered in some cancers to confer chemoresistance. We therefore set out to reevaluate our prior Drosophila RNAi screening data by comparison to gene expression arrays in order to determine if we could identify any novel processes in alkylation damage survival. We noted a consistent conservation of alkylation survival pathways across platforms and species when the analysis was conducted on a pathway/process level rather than at an individual gene level. Better results were obtained when combining gene lists from two datasets (RNAi screen plus microarray) prior to analysis. In addition to previously identified DNA damage responses (p53 signaling and Nucleotide Excision Repair), DNA-mRNA-protein metabolism (transcription/translation) and proteasome machinery, we also noted a highly conserved cross-species requirement for NRF2, glutathione (GSH)-mediated drug detoxification and Endoplasmic Reticulum stress (ER stress)/Unfolded Protein Responses (UPR) in cells exposed to alkylation. The requirement for GSH, NRF2 and UPR in alkylation survival was validated by metabolomics, protein studies and functional cell assays. From this we conclude that RNAi/gene expression fusion is a valid strategy to rapidly identify key processes that may be extendable to other contexts beyond damage survival.
The rapid rise of CRISPR as a technology for genome engineering and related research applications has created a need for algorithms and associated online tools that facilitate design of on-target and effective guide RNAs (gRNAs). Here, we review the state-of-the-art in CRISPR gRNA design for research applications of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, including knockout, activation and inhibition. Notably, achieving good gRNA design is not solely dependent on innovations in CRISPR technology. Good design and design tools also rely on availability of high-quality genome sequence and gene annotations, as well as on availability of accumulated data regarding off-targets and effectiveness metrics. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Huajin Wang, Michel Becuwe, Benjamin E Housden, Chandramohan Chitraju, Ashley J Porras, Morven M Graham, Xinran N Liu, Abdou Rachid Thiam, David B Savage, Anil K Agarwal, Abhimanyu Garg, Maria-Jesus Olarte, Qingqing Lin, Florian Fröhlich, Hans Kristian Hannibal-Bach, Srigokul Upadhyayula, Norbert Perrimon, Tomas Kirchhausen, Christer S Ejsing, Tobias C Walther, and Robert V Farese. 2016. “Seipin is required for converting nascent to mature lipid droplets.” Elife, 5.Abstract
How proteins control the biogenesis of cellular lipid droplets (LDs) is poorly understood. Using Drosophila and human cells, we show here that seipin, an ER protein implicated in LD biology, mediates a discrete step in LD formation-the conversion of small, nascent LDs to larger, mature LDs. Seipin forms discrete and dynamic foci in the ER that interact with nascent LDs to enable their growth. In the absence of seipin, numerous small, nascent LDs accumulate near the ER and most often fail to grow. Those that do grow prematurely acquire lipid synthesis enzymes and undergo expansion, eventually leading to the giant LDs characteristic of seipin deficiency. Our studies identify a discrete step of LD formation, namely the conversion of nascent LDs to mature LDs, and define a molecular role for seipin in this process, most likely by acting at ER-LD contact sites to enable lipid transfer to nascent LDs.
The tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) family of tumor suppressors, TSC1 and TSC2, function together in an evolutionarily conserved protein complex that is a point of convergence for major cell signaling pathways that regulate mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1). Mutation or aberrant inhibition of the TSC complex is common in various human tumor syndromes and cancers. The discovery of novel therapeutic strategies to selectively target cells with functional loss of this complex is therefore of clinical relevance to patients with nonmalignant TSC and those with sporadic cancers. We developed a CRISPR-based method to generate homogeneous mutant Drosophila cell lines. By combining TSC1 or TSC2 mutant cell lines with RNAi screens against all kinases and phosphatases, we identified synthetic interactions with TSC1 and TSC2. Individual knockdown of three candidate genes (mRNA-cap, Pitslre, and CycT; orthologs of RNGTT, CDK11, and CCNT1 in humans) reduced the population growth rate of Drosophila cells lacking either TSC1 or TSC2 but not that of wild-type cells. Moreover, individual knockdown of these three genes had similar growth-inhibiting effects in mammalian TSC2-deficient cell lines, including human tumor-derived cells, illustrating the power of this cross-species screening strategy to identify potential drug targets.
Using a Drosophila model of Alzheimer's disease (AD), we systematically evaluated 67 candidate genes based on AD-associated genomic loci (P < 10(-4)) from published human genome-wide association studies (GWAS). Genetic manipulation of 87 homologous fly genes was tested for modulation of neurotoxicity caused by human Tau, which forms neurofibrillary tangle pathology in AD. RNA interference (RNAi) targeting 9 genes enhanced Tau neurotoxicity, and in most cases reciprocal activation of gene expression suppressed Tau toxicity. Our screen implicates cindr, the fly ortholog of the human CD2AP AD susceptibility gene, as a modulator of Tau-mediated disease mechanisms. Importantly, we also identify the fly orthologs of FERMT2 and CELF1 as Tau modifiers, and these loci have been independently validated as AD susceptibility loci in the latest GWAS meta-analysis. Both CD2AP and FERMT2 have been previously implicated with roles in cell adhesion, and our screen additionally identifies a fly homolog of the human integrin adhesion receptors, ITGAM and ITGA9, as a modifier of Tau neurotoxicity. Our results highlight cell adhesion pathways as important in Tau toxicity and AD susceptibility and demonstrate the power of model organism genetic screens for the functional follow-up of human GWAS.
BACKGROUND: RNA interference (RNAi) is an effective and important tool used to study gene function. For large-scale screens, RNAi is used to systematically down-regulate genes of interest and analyze their roles in a biological process. However, RNAi is associated with off-target effects (OTEs), including microRNA (miRNA)-like OTEs. The contribution of reagent-specific OTEs to RNAi screen data sets can be significant. In addition, the post-screen validation process is time and labor intensive. Thus, the availability of robust approaches to identify candidate off-targeted transcripts would be beneficial. RESULTS: Significant efforts have been made to eliminate false positive results attributable to sequence-specific OTEs associated with RNAi. These approaches have included improved algorithms for RNAi reagent design, incorporation of chemical modifications into siRNAs, and the use of various bioinformatics strategies to identify possible OTEs in screen results. Genome-wide Enrichment of Seed Sequence matches (GESS) was developed to identify potential off-targeted transcripts in large-scale screen data by seed-region analysis. Here, we introduce a user-friendly web application that provides researchers a relatively quick and easy way to perform GESS analysis on data from human or mouse cell-based screens using short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) or short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs), as well as for Drosophila screens using shRNAs. Online GESS relies on up-to-date transcript sequence annotations for human and mouse genes extracted from NCBI Reference Sequence (RefSeq) and Drosophila genes from FlyBase. The tool also accommodates analysis with user-provided reference sequence files. CONCLUSION: Online GESS provides a straightforward user interface for genome-wide seed region analysis for human, mouse and Drosophila RNAi screen data. With the tool, users can either use a built-in database or provide a database of transcripts for analysis. This makes it possible to analyze RNAi data from any organism for which the user can provide transcript sequences.
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.
Defects in miRNA biogenesis or activity are associated to development abnormalities and diseases. In Drosophila, miRNAs are predominantly loaded in Argonaute-1, which they guide for silencing of target RNAs. The miRNA pathway overlaps the RNAi pathway in this organism, as miRNAs may also associate with Argonaute-2, the mediator of RNAi. We set up a gene construct in which a single inducible promoter directs the expression of the GFP protein as well as two miRNAs perfectly matching the GFP sequences. We show that self-silencing of the resulting automiG gene requires Drosha, Pasha, Dicer-1, Dicer-2 and Argonaute-2 loaded with the anti-GFP miRNAs. In contrast, self-silencing of the automiG gene does not involve Argonaute-1. Thus, automiG reports in vivo for both miRNA biogenesis and Ago-2 mediated silencing, providing a powerful biosensor to identify situations where miRNA or siRNA pathways are impaired. As a proof of concept, we used automiG as a biosensor to screen a chemical library and identified 29 molecules that strongly inhibit miRNA silencing, out of which 5 also inhibit RNAi triggered by long double-stranded RNA. Finally, the automiG sensor is also self-silenced by the anti-GFP miRNAs in HeLa cells and might be easily used to identify factors involved in miRNA biogenesis and silencing guided by perfect target complementarity in mammals.
Store-operated calcium entry (SOCE) by calcium release activated calcium (CRAC) channels constitutes a primary route of calcium entry in most cells. Orai1 forms the pore subunit of CRAC channels and Stim1 is the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) resident Ca(2+) sensor. Upon store-depletion, Stim1 translocates to domains of ER adjacent to the plasma membrane where it interacts with and clusters Orai1 hexamers to form the CRAC channel complex. Molecular steps enabling activation of SOCE via CRAC channel clusters remain incompletely defined. Here we identify an essential role of α-SNAP in mediating functional coupling of Stim1 and Orai1 molecules to activate SOCE. This role for α-SNAP is direct and independent of its known activity in NSF dependent SNARE complex disassembly. Importantly, Stim1-Orai1 clustering still occurs in the absence of α-SNAP but its inability to support SOCE reveals that a previously unsuspected molecular re-arrangement within CRAC channel clusters is necessary for SOCE. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00802.001.
The androgen receptor (AR) is a mediator of both androgen-dependent and castration-resistant prostate cancers. Identification of cellular factors affecting AR transcriptional activity could in principle yield new targets that reduce AR activity and combat prostate cancer, yet a comprehensive analysis of the genes required for AR-dependent transcriptional activity has not been determined. Using an unbiased genetic approach that takes advantage of the evolutionary conservation of AR signaling, we have conducted a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cells for genes required for AR transcriptional activity and applied the results to human prostate cancer cells. We identified 45 AR-regulators, which include known pathway components and genes with functions not previously linked to AR regulation, such as HIPK2 (a protein kinase) and MED19 (a subunit of the Mediator complex). Depletion of HIPK2 and MED19 in human prostate cancer cells decreased AR target gene expression and, importantly, reduced the proliferation of androgen-dependent and castration-resistant prostate cancer cells. We also systematically analyzed additional Mediator subunits and uncovered a small subset of Mediator subunits that interpret AR signaling and affect AR-dependent transcription and prostate cancer cell proliferation. Importantly, targeting of HIPK2 by an FDA-approved kinase inhibitor phenocopied the effect of depletion by RNAi and reduced the growth of AR-positive, but not AR-negative, treatment-resistant prostate cancer cells. Thus, our screen has yielded new AR regulators including drugable targets that reduce the proliferation of castration-resistant prostate cancer cells.
Analysis of high-throughput data increasingly relies on pathway annotation and functional information derived from Gene Ontology. This approach has limitations, in particular for the analysis of network dynamics over time or under different experimental conditions, in which modules within a network rather than complete pathways might respond and change. We report an analysis framework based on protein complexes, which are at the core of network reorganization. We generated a protein complex resource for human, Drosophila, and yeast from the literature and databases of protein-protein interaction networks, with each species having thousands of complexes. We developed COMPLEAT (http://www.flyrnai.org/compleat), a tool for data mining and visualization for complex-based analysis of high-throughput data sets, as well as analysis and integration of heterogeneous proteomics and gene expression data sets. With COMPLEAT, we identified dynamically regulated protein complexes among genome-wide RNA interference data sets that used the abundance of phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase in cells stimulated with either insulin or epidermal growth factor as the output. The analysis predicted that the Brahma complex participated in the insulin response.
The way in which cells adopt different morphologies is not fully understood. Cell shape could be a continuous variable or restricted to a set of discrete forms. We developed quantitative methods to describe cell shape and show that Drosophila haemocytes in culture are a heterogeneous mixture of five discrete morphologies. In an RNAi screen of genes affecting the morphological complexity of heterogeneous cell populations, we found that most genes regulate the transition between discrete shapes rather than generating new morphologies. In particular, we identified a subset of genes, including the tumour suppressor PTEN, that decrease the heterogeneity of the population, leading to populations enriched in rounded or elongated forms. We show that these genes have a highly conserved function as regulators of cell shape in both mouse and human metastatic melanoma cells.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a widely adopted tool for loss-of-function studies but RNAi results only have biological relevance if the reagents are appropriately mapped to genes. Several groups have designed and generated RNAi reagent libraries for studies in cells or in vivo for Drosophila and other species. At first glance, matching RNAi reagents to genes appears to be a simple problem, as each reagent is typically designed to target a single gene. In practice, however, the reagent-gene relationship is complex. Although the sequences of oligonucleotides used to generate most types of RNAi reagents are static, the reference genome and gene annotations are regularly updated. Thus, at the time a researcher chooses an RNAi reagent or analyzes RNAi data, the most current interpretation of the RNAi reagent-gene relationship, as well as related information regarding specificity (e.g., predicted off-target effects), can be different from the original interpretation. Here, we describe a set of strategies and an accompanying online tool, UP-TORR (for Updated Targets of RNAi Reagents; www.flyrnai.org/up-torr), useful for accurate and up-to-date annotation of cell-based and in vivo RNAi reagents. Importantly, UP-TORR automatically synchronizes with gene annotations daily, retrieving the most current information available, and for Drosophila, also synchronizes with the major reagent collections. Thus, UP-TORR allows users to choose the most appropriate RNAi reagents at the onset of a study, as well as to perform the most appropriate analyses of results of RNAi-based studies.