In multicellular organisms, cell number is typically determined by a balance of intracellular signals that positively and negatively regulate cell survival and proliferation. Dissecting these signaling networks facilitates the understanding of normal development and tumorigenesis. Here, we study signaling by the Drosophila PDGF/VEGF Receptor (Pvr) in embryonic blood cells (hemocytes) and in the related cell line Kc as a model for the requirement of PDGF/VEGF receptors in vertebrate cell survival and proliferation. The system allows the investigation of downstream and parallel signaling networks, based on the ability of Pvr to activate Ras/Erk, Akt/TOR, and yet-uncharacterized signaling pathway/s, which redundantly mediate cell survival and contribute to proliferation. Using Kc cells, we performed a genome wide RNAi screen for regulators of cell number in a sensitized, Pvr deficient background. We identified the receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) Insulin-like receptor (InR) as a major Pvr Enhancer, and the nuclear hormone receptors Ecdysone receptor (EcR) and ultraspiracle (usp), corresponding to mammalian Retinoid X Receptor (RXR), as Pvr Suppressors. In vivo analysis in the Drosophila embryo revealed a previously unrecognized role for EcR to promote apoptotic death of embryonic blood cells, which is balanced with pro-survival signaling by Pvr and InR. Phosphoproteomic analysis demonstrates distinct modes of cell number regulation by EcR and RTK signaling. We define common phosphorylation targets of Pvr and InR that include regulators of cell survival, and unique targets responsible for specialized receptor functions. Interestingly, our analysis reveals that the selection of phosphorylation targets by signaling receptors shows qualitative changes depending on the signaling status of the cell, which may have wide-reaching implications for other cell regulatory systems.
Chromatin insulators of higher eukaryotes functionally divide the genome into active and inactive domains. Furthermore, insulators regulate enhancer/promoter communication, which is evident from the Drosophila bithorax locus in which a multitude of regulatory elements control segment specific gene activity. Centrosomal protein 190 (CP190) is targeted to insulators by CTCF or other insulator DNA-binding factors. Chromatin analyses revealed that insulators are characterized by open and nucleosome depleted regions. Here, we wanted to identify chromatin modification and remodelling factors required for an enhancer blocking function. We used the well-studied Fab-8 insulator of the bithorax locus to apply a genome-wide RNAi screen for factors that contribute to the enhancer blocking function of CTCF and CP190. Among 78 genes required for optimal Fab-8 mediated enhancer blocking, all four components of the NURF complex as well as several subunits of the dREAM complex were most evident. Mass spectrometric analyses of CTCF or CP190 bound proteins as well as immune precipitation confirmed NURF and dREAM binding. Both co-localise with most CP190 binding sites in the genome and chromatin immune precipitation showed that CP190 recruits NURF and dREAM. Nucleosome occupancy and histone H3 binding analyses revealed that CP190 mediated NURF binding results in nucleosomal depletion at CP190 binding sites. Thus, we conclude that CP190 binding to CTCF or to other DNA binding insulator factors mediates recruitment of NURF and dREAM. Furthermore, the enhancer blocking function of insulators is associated with nucleosomal depletion and requires NURF and dREAM.
Polycomb group (PcG) proteins dynamically define cellular identities through epigenetic repression of key developmental genes. PcG target gene repression can be stabilized through the interaction in the nucleus at PcG foci. Here, we report the results of a high-resolution microscopy genome-wide RNAi screen that identifies 129 genes that regulate the nuclear organization of Pc foci. Candidate genes include PcG components and chromatin factors, as well as many protein-modifying enzymes, including components of the SUMOylation pathway. In the absence of SUMO, Pc foci coagulate into larger aggregates. Conversely, loss of function of the SUMO peptidase Velo disperses Pc foci. Moreover, SUMO and Velo colocalize with PcG proteins at PREs, and Pc SUMOylation affects its chromatin targeting, suggesting that the dynamic regulation of Pc SUMOylation regulates PcG-mediated silencing by modulating the kinetics of Pc binding to chromatin as well as its ability to form Polycomb foci.
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.
Here, I discuss how RNAi screening can be used effectively to uncover gene function. Specifically, I discuss the types of high-throughput assays that can be done in Drosophila cells and in vivo, RNAi reagent design and available reagent collections, automated screen pipelines, analysis of screen results, and approaches to RNAi results verification.
Regulation of cell growth is a fundamental process in development and disease that integrates a vast array of extra- and intracellular information. A central player in this process is RNA polymerase I (Pol I), which transcribes ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes in the nucleolus. Rapidly growing cancer cells are characterized by increased Pol I-mediated transcription and, consequently, nucleolar hypertrophy. To map the genetic network underlying the regulation of nucleolar size and of Pol I-mediated transcription, we performed comparative, genome-wide loss-of-function analyses of nucleolar size in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Drosophila melanogaster coupled with mass spectrometry-based analyses of the ribosomal DNA (rDNA) promoter. With this approach, we identified a set of conserved and nonconserved molecular complexes that control nucleolar size. Furthermore, we characterized a direct role of the histone information regulator (HIR) complex in repressing rRNA transcription in yeast. Our study provides a full-genome, cross-species analysis of a nuclear subcompartment and shows that this approach can identify conserved molecular modules.
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.
Clemens Bergwitz, Mark J Wee, Sumi Sinha, Joanne Huang, Charles DeRobertis, Lawrence B Mensah, Jonathan Cohen, Adam Friedman, Meghana Kulkarni, Yanhui Hu, Arunachalam Vinayagam, Michael Schnall-Levin, Bonnie Berger, Lizabeth A Perkins, Stephanie E Mohr, and Norbert Perrimon. 2013. “Genetic determinants of phosphate response in Drosophila.” PLoS One, 8, 3, Pp. e56753.Abstract
Phosphate is required for many important cellular processes and having too little phosphate or too much can cause disease and reduce life span in humans. However, the mechanisms underlying homeostatic control of extracellular phosphate levels and cellular effects of phosphate are poorly understood. Here, we establish Drosophila melanogaster as a model system for the study of phosphate effects. We found that Drosophila larval development depends on the availability of phosphate in the medium. Conversely, life span is reduced when adult flies are cultured on high phosphate medium or when hemolymph phosphate is increased in flies with impaired malpighian tubules. In addition, RNAi-mediated inhibition of MAPK-signaling by knockdown of Ras85D, phl/D-Raf or Dsor1/MEK affects larval development, adult life span and hemolymph phosphate, suggesting that some in vivo effects involve activation of this signaling pathway by phosphate. To identify novel genetic determinants of phosphate responses, we used Drosophila hemocyte-like cultured cells (S2R+) to perform a genome-wide RNAi screen using MAPK activation as the readout. We identified a number of candidate genes potentially important for the cellular response to phosphate. Evaluation of 51 genes in live flies revealed some that affect larval development, adult life span and hemolymph phosphate levels.
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.
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.
The Hippo pathway controls metazoan organ growth by regulating cell proliferation and apoptosis. Many components have been identified, but our knowledge of the composition and structure of this pathway is still incomplete. Using existing pathway components as baits, we generated by mass spectrometry a high-confidence Drosophila Hippo protein-protein interaction network (Hippo-PPIN) consisting of 153 proteins and 204 interactions. Depletion of 67% of the proteins by RNA interference regulated the transcriptional coactivator Yorkie (Yki) either positively or negatively. We selected for further characterization a new member of the alpha-arrestin family, Leash, and show that it promotes degradation of Yki through the lysosomal pathway. Given the importance of the Hippo pathway in tumor development, the Hippo-PPIN will contribute to our understanding of this network in both normal growth and cancer.
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.
Besides its essential and well established role as a component of the cytoskeleton, actin is also present in the cell nucleus, where it has been linked to many processes that control gene expression. For example, nuclear actin regulates the activity of specific transcription factors, associates with all three RNA polymerases, and is a component of many chromatin remodelling complexes. Despite the fact that two export receptors, Crm1 and exportin 6, have been linked to nuclear export of actin, the mechanism by which actin enters the nucleus to elicit these essential functions has not been determined. It is also unclear whether actin is actively exchanged between the nucleus and the cytoplasm, and whether this connection has any functional significance for the cell. By applying a variety of live-cell imaging techniques we revealed that actin constantly shuttles in and out of the nucleus. The fast transport rates, which depend on the availability of actin monomers, suggest an active transport mechanism in both directions. Importantly, we identified importin 9 as the nuclear import factor for actin. Furthermore, our RNAi experiments showed that the active maintenance of nuclear actin levels by importin 9 is required for maximal transcriptional activity. Measurements of nuclear export rates and depletion studies also clarified that nuclear export of actin is mediated by exportin 6, and not by Crm1. These results demonstrate that cytoplasmic and nuclear actin pools are dynamically connected and identify the nuclear import and export mechanisms of actin.
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 spontaneous and reversible formation of foci and filaments that contain proteins involved in different metabolic processes is common in both the nucleus and the cytoplasm. Stress granules (SGs) and processing bodies (PBs) belong to a novel family of cellular structures collectively known as mRNA silencing foci that harbour repressed mRNAs and their associated proteins. SGs and PBs are highly dynamic and they form upon stress and dissolve thus releasing the repressed mRNAs according to changes in cell physiology. In addition, aggregates containing abnormal proteins are frequent in neurodegenerative disorders. In spite of the growing relevance of these supramolecular aggregates to diverse cellular functions a reliable automated tool for their systematic analysis is lacking. Here we report a MATLAB Script termed BUHO for the high-throughput image analysis of cellular foci. We used BUHO to assess the number, size and distribution of distinct objects with minimal deviation from manually obtained parameters. BUHO successfully addressed the induction of both SGs and PBs in mammalian and insect cells exposed to different stress stimuli. We also used BUHO to assess the dynamics of specific mRNA-silencing foci termed Smaug 1 foci (S-foci) in primary neurons upon synaptic stimulation. Finally, we used BUHO to analyze the role of candidate genes on SG formation in an RNAi-based experiment. We found that FAK56D, GCN2 and PP1 govern SG formation. The role of PP1 is conserved in mammalian cells as judged by the effect of the PP1 inhibitor salubrinal, and involves dephosphorylation of the translation factor eIF2α. All these experiments were analyzed manually and by BUHO and the results differed in less than 5% of the average value. The automated analysis by this user-friendly method will allow high-throughput image processing in short times by providing a robust, flexible and reliable alternative to the laborious and sometimes unfeasible visual scrutiny.
Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) are a natural by-product of cellular growth and proliferation, and are required for fundamental processes such as protein-folding and signal transduction. However, ROS accumulation, and the onset of oxidative stress, can negatively impact cellular and genomic integrity. Signalling networks have evolved to respond to oxidative stress by engaging diverse enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidant mechanisms to restore redox homeostasis. The architecture of oxidative stress response networks during periods of normal growth, and how increased ROS levels dynamically reconfigure these networks are largely unknown. In order to gain insight into the structure of signalling networks that promote redox homeostasis we first performed genome-scale RNAi screens to identify novel suppressors of superoxide accumulation. We then infer relationships between redox regulators by hierarchical clustering of phenotypic signatures describing how gene inhibition affects superoxide levels, cellular viability, and morphology across different genetic backgrounds. Genes that cluster together are likely to act in the same signalling pathway/complex and thus make "functional interactions". Moreover we also calculate differential phenotypic signatures describing the difference in cellular phenotypes following RNAi between untreated cells and cells submitted to oxidative stress. Using both phenotypic signatures and differential signatures we construct a network model of functional interactions that occur between components of the redox homeostasis network, and how such interactions become rewired in the presence of oxidative stress. This network model predicts a functional interaction between the transcription factor Jun and the IRE1 kinase, which we validate in an orthogonal assay. We thus demonstrate the ability of systems-biology approaches to identify novel signalling events.
FlyRNAi (http://www.flyrnai.org), the database and website of the Drosophila RNAi Screening Center (DRSC) at Harvard Medical School, serves a dual role, tracking both production of reagents for RNA interference (RNAi) screening in Drosophila cells and RNAi screen results. The database and website is used as a platform for community availability of protocols, tools, and other resources useful to researchers planning, conducting, analyzing or interpreting the results of Drosophila RNAi screens. Based on our own experience and user feedback, we have made several changes. Specifically, we have restructured the database to accommodate new types of reagents; added information about new RNAi libraries and other reagents; updated the user interface and website; and added new tools of use to the Drosophila community and others. Overall, the result is a more useful, flexible and comprehensive website and database.
Hedgehog (Hh) proteins are secreted molecules that function as organizers in animal development. In addition to being palmitoylated, Hh is the only metazoan protein known to possess a covalently-linked cholesterol moiety. The absence of either modification severely disrupts the organization of numerous tissues during development. It is currently not known how lipid-modified Hh is secreted and released from producing cells. We have performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila melanogaster cells to identify regulators of Hh secretion. We found that cholesterol-modified Hh secretion is strongly dependent on coat protein complex I (COPI) but not COPII vesicles, suggesting that cholesterol modification alters the movement of Hh through the early secretory pathway. We provide evidence that both proteolysis and cholesterol modification are necessary for the efficient trafficking of Hh through the ER and Golgi. Finally, we identified several putative regulators of protein secretion and demonstrate a role for some of these genes in Hh and Wingless (Wg) morphogen secretion in vivo. These data open new perspectives for studying how morphogen secretion is regulated, as well as provide insight into regulation of lipid-modified protein secretion.
Sex chromosome dosage compensation in Drosophila provides a model for understanding how chromatin organization can modulate coordinate gene regulation. Male Drosophila increase the transcript levels of genes on the single male X approximately two-fold to equal the gene expression in females, which have two X-chromosomes. Dosage compensation is mediated by the Male-Specific Lethal (MSL) histone acetyltransferase complex. Five core components of the MSL complex were identified by genetic screens for genes that are specifically required for male viability and are dispensable for females. However, because dosage compensation must interface with the general transcriptional machinery, it is likely that identifying additional regulators that are not strictly male-specific will be key to understanding the process at a mechanistic level. Such regulators would not have been recovered from previous male-specific lethal screening strategies. Therefore, we have performed a cell culture-based, genome-wide RNAi screen to search for factors required for MSL targeting or function. Here we focus on the discovery of proteins that function to promote MSL complex recruitment to "chromatin entry sites," which are proposed to be the initial sites of MSL targeting. We find that components of the NSL (Non-specific lethal) complex, and a previously unstudied zinc-finger protein, facilitate MSL targeting and display a striking enrichment at MSL entry sites. Identification of these factors provides new insight into how MSL complex establishes the specialized hyperactive chromatin required for dosage compensation in Drosophila.