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 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.
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.
Lipid droplets (LDs) are specialized cell organelles for the storage of energy-rich lipids. Although lipid storage is a conserved feature of all cells and organisms, little is known about fundamental aspects of the cell biology of LDs, including their biogenesis, structural assembly and subcellular positioning, and the regulation of organismic energy homeostasis. We identified a novel LD-associated protein family, represented by the Drosophila protein CG9186 and its murine homolog MGI:1916082. In the absence of LDs, both proteins localize at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Upon lipid storage induction, they translocate to LDs using an evolutionarily conserved targeting mechanism that acts through a 60-amino-acid targeting motif in the center of the CG9186 protein. Overexpression of CG9186, and MGI:1916082, causes clustering of LDs in both tissue culture and salivary gland cells, whereas RNAi knockdown of CG9186 results in a reduction of LDs. Organismal RNAi knockdown of CG9186 results in a reduction in lipid storage levels of the fly. The results indicate that we identified the first members of a novel and evolutionarily conserved family of lipid storage regulators, which are also required to properly position LDs within cells.
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.
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.
Regulation of genes that initiate and amplify inflammatory programs of gene expression is achieved by signal-dependent exchange of coregulator complexes that function to read, write, and erase specific histone modifications linked to transcriptional activation or repression. Here, we provide evidence for the role of trimethylated histone H4 lysine 20 (H4K20me3) as a repression checkpoint that restricts expression of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) target genes in macrophages. H4K20me3 is deposited at the promoters of a subset of these genes by the SMYD5 histone methyltransferase through its association with NCoR corepressor complexes. Signal-dependent erasure of H4K20me3 is required for effective gene activation and is achieved by NF-κB-dependent delivery of the histone demethylase PHF2. Liver X receptors antagonize TLR4-dependent gene activation by maintaining NCoR/SMYD5-mediated repression. These findings reveal a histone H4K20 trimethylation/demethylation strategy that integrates positive and negative signaling inputs that control immunity and homeostasis.
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.
BACKGROUND: Mapping of orthologous genes among species serves an important role in functional genomics by allowing researchers to develop hypotheses about gene function in one species based on what is known about the functions of orthologs in other species. Several tools for predicting orthologous gene relationships are available. However, these tools can give different results and identification of predicted orthologs is not always straightforward. RESULTS: We report a simple but effective tool, the Drosophila RNAi Screening Center Integrative Ortholog Prediction Tool (DIOPT; http://www.flyrnai.org/diopt), for rapid identification of orthologs. DIOPT integrates existing approaches, facilitating rapid identification of orthologs among human, mouse, zebrafish, C. elegans, Drosophila, and S. cerevisiae. As compared to individual tools, DIOPT shows increased sensitivity with only a modest decrease in specificity. Moreover, the flexibility built into the DIOPT graphical user interface allows researchers with different goals to appropriately 'cast a wide net' or limit results to highest confidence predictions. DIOPT also displays protein and domain alignments, including percent amino acid identity, for predicted ortholog pairs. This helps users identify the most appropriate matches among multiple possible orthologs. To facilitate using model organisms for functional analysis of human disease-associated genes, we used DIOPT to predict high-confidence orthologs of disease genes in Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) and genes in genome-wide association study (GWAS) data sets. The results are accessible through the DIOPT diseases and traits query tool (DIOPT-DIST; http://www.flyrnai.org/diopt-dist). CONCLUSIONS: DIOPT and DIOPT-DIST are useful resources for researchers working with model organisms, especially those who are interested in exploiting model organisms such as Drosophila to study the functions of human disease genes.
BACKGROUND: A genomic catalogue of protein-protein interactions is a rich source of information, particularly for exploring the relationships between proteins. Numerous systems-wide and small-scale experiments have been conducted to identify interactions; however, our knowledge of all interactions for any one species is incomplete, and alternative means to expand these network maps is needed. We therefore took a comparative biology approach to predict protein-protein interactions across five species (human, mouse, fly, worm, and yeast) and developed InterologFinder for research biologists to easily navigate this data. We also developed a confidence score for interactions based on available experimental evidence and conservation across species. RESULTS: The connectivity of the resultant networks was determined to have scale-free distribution, small-world properties, and increased local modularity, indicating that the added interactions do not disrupt our current understanding of protein network structures. We show examples of how these improved interactomes can be used to analyze a genome-scale dataset (RNAi screen) and to assign new function to proteins. Predicted interactions within this dataset were tested by co-immunoprecipitation, resulting in a high rate of validation, suggesting the high quality of networks produced. CONCLUSIONS: Protein-protein interactions were predicted in five species, based on orthology. An InteroScore, a score accounting for homology, number of orthologues with evidence of interactions, and number of unique observations of interactions, is given to each known and predicted interaction. Our website http://www.interologfinder.org provides research biologists intuitive access to this data.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an effective tool for genome-scale, high-throughput analysis of gene function. In the past five years, a number of genome-scale RNAi high-throughput screens (HTSs) have been done in both Drosophila and mammalian cultured cells to study diverse biological processes, including signal transduction, cancer biology, and host cell responses to infection. Results from these screens have led to the identification of new components of these processes and, importantly, have also provided insights into the complexity of biological systems, forcing new and innovative approaches to understanding functional networks in cells. Here, we review the main findings that have emerged from RNAi HTS and discuss technical issues that remain to be improved, in particular the verification of RNAi results and validation of their biological relevance. Furthermore, we discuss the importance of multiplexed and integrated experimental data analysis pipelines to RNAi HTS.
Francisella tularensis is a highly infectious facultative intracellular bacterium that can be transmitted between mammals by arthropod vectors. Similar to many other intracellular bacteria that replicate within the cytosol, such as Listeria, Shigella, Burkholderia, and Rickettsia, the virulence of F. tularensis depends on its ability to modulate biogenesis of its phagosome and to escape into the host cell cytosol where it proliferates. Recent studies have identified the F. tularensis genes required for modulation of phagosome biogenesis and escape into the host cell cytosol within human and arthropod-derived cells. However, the arthropod and mammalian host factors required for intracellular proliferation of F. tularensis are not known. We have utilized a forward genetic approach employing genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila melanogaster-derived cells. Screening a library of approximately 21,300 RNAi, we have identified at least 186 host factors required for intracellular bacterial proliferation. We silenced twelve mammalian homologues by RNAi in HEK293T cells and identified three conserved factors, the PI4 kinase PI4KCA, the ubiquitin hydrolase USP22, and the ubiquitin ligase CDC27, which are also required for replication in human cells. The PI4KCA and USP22 mammalian factors are not required for modulation of phagosome biogenesis or phagosomal escape but are required for proliferation within the cytosol. In contrast, the CDC27 ubiquitin ligase is required for evading lysosomal fusion and for phagosomal escape into the cytosol. Although F. tularensis interacts with the autophagy pathway during late stages of proliferation in mouse macrophages, this does not occur in human cells. Our data suggest that F. tularensis utilizes host ubiquitin turnover in distinct mechanisms during the phagosomal and cytosolic phases and phosphoinositide metabolism is essential for cytosolic proliferation of F. tularensis. Our data will facilitate deciphering molecular ecology, patho-adaptation of F. tularensis to the arthropod vector and its role in bacterial ecology and patho-evolution to infect mammals.
RNA interference (RNAi) provides a powerful reverse genetics approach to analyze gene functions both in tissue culture and in vivo. Because of its widespread applicability and effectiveness it has become an essential part of the tool box kits of model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, and the mouse. In addition, the use of RNAi in animals in which genetic tools are either poorly developed or nonexistent enables a myriad of fundamental questions to be asked. Here, we review the methods and applications of in vivo RNAi to characterize gene functions in model organisms and discuss their impact to the study of developmental as well as evolutionary questions. Further, we discuss the applications of RNAi technologies to crop improvement, pest control and RNAi therapeutics, thus providing an appreciation of the potential for phenomenal applications of RNAi to agriculture and medicine.
Poxviruses include medically important human pathogens, yet little is known about the specific cellular factors essential for their replication. To identify genes essential for poxvirus infection, we used high-throughput RNA interference to screen the Drosophila kinome for factors required for vaccinia infection. We identified seven genes including the three subunits of AMPK as promoting vaccinia infection. AMPK not only facilitated infection in insect cells, but also in mammalian cells. Moreover, we found that AMPK is required for macropinocytosis, a major endocytic entry pathway for vaccinia. Furthermore, we show that AMPK contributes to other virus-independent actin-dependent processes including lamellipodia formation and wound healing, independent of the known AMPK activators LKB1 and CaMKK. Therefore, AMPK plays a highly conserved role in poxvirus infection and actin dynamics independent of its role as an energy regulator.
Damage initiates a pleiotropic cellular response aimed at cellular survival when appropriate. To identify genes required for damage survival, we used a cell-based RNAi screen against the Drosophila genome and the alkylating agent methyl methanesulphonate (MMS). Similar studies performed in other model organisms report that damage response may involve pleiotropic cellular processes other than the central DNA repair components, yet an intuitive systems level view of the cellular components required for damage survival, their interrelationship, and contextual importance has been lacking. Further, by comparing data from different model organisms, identification of conserved and presumably core survival components should be forthcoming. We identified 307 genes, representing 13 signaling, metabolic, or enzymatic pathways, affecting cellular survival of MMS-induced damage. As expected, the majority of these pathways are involved in DNA repair; however, several pathways with more diverse biological functions were also identified, including the TOR pathway, transcription, translation, proteasome, glutathione synthesis, ATP synthesis, and Notch signaling, and these were equally important in damage survival. Comparison with genomic screen data from Saccharomyces cerevisiae revealed no overlap enrichment of individual genes between the species, but a conservation of the pathways. To demonstrate the functional conservation of pathways, five were tested in Drosophila and mouse cells, with each pathway responding to alkylation damage in both species. Using the protein interactome, a significant level of connectivity was observed between Drosophila MMS survival proteins, suggesting a higher order relationship. This connectivity was dramatically improved by incorporating the components of the 13 identified pathways within the network. Grouping proteins into "pathway nodes" qualitatively improved the interactome organization, revealing a highly organized "MMS survival network." We conclude that identification of pathways can facilitate comparative biology analysis when direct gene/orthologue comparisons fail. A biologically intuitive, highly interconnected MMS survival network was revealed after we incorporated pathway data in our interactome analysis.