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.
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.
Heterochromatin is enriched for specific epigenetic factors including Heterochromatin Protein 1a (HP1a), and is essential for many organismal functions. To elucidate heterochromatin organization and regulation, we purified Drosophila melanogaster HP1a interactors, and performed a genome-wide RNAi screen to identify genes that impact HP1a levels or localization. The majority of the over four hundred putative HP1a interactors and regulators identified were previously unknown. We found that 13 of 16 tested candidates (83%) are required for gene silencing, providing a substantial increase in the number of identified components that impact heterochromatin properties. Surprisingly, image analysis revealed that although some HP1a interactors and regulators are broadly distributed within the heterochromatin domain, most localize to discrete subdomains that display dynamic localization patterns during the cell cycle. We conclude that heterochromatin composition and architecture is more spatially complex and dynamic than previously suggested, and propose that a network of subdomains regulates diverse heterochromatin functions.
Hypercapnia, elevated partial pressure of CO2 in blood and tissue, develops in many patients with chronic severe obstructive pulmonary disease and other advanced lung disorders. Patients with advanced disease frequently develop bacterial lung infections, and hypercapnia is a risk factor for mortality in such individuals. We previously demonstrated that hypercapnia suppresses induction of NF-κB-regulated innate immune response genes required for host defense in human, mouse, and Drosophila cells, and it increases mortality from bacterial infections in both mice and Drosophila. However, the molecular mediators of hypercapnic immune suppression are undefined. In this study, we report a genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila S2* cells stimulated with bacterial peptidoglycan. The screen identified 16 genes with human orthologs whose knockdown reduced hypercapnic suppression of the gene encoding the antimicrobial peptide Diptericin (Dipt), but did not increase Dipt mRNA levels in air. In vivo tests of one of the strongest screen hits, zinc finger homeodomain 2 (Zfh2; mammalian orthologs ZFHX3/ATBF1 and ZFHX4), demonstrate that reducing zfh2 function using a mutation or RNA interference improves survival of flies exposed to elevated CO2 and infected with Staphylococcus aureus. Tissue-specific knockdown of zfh2 in the fat body, the major immune and metabolic organ of the fly, mitigates hypercapnia-induced reductions in Dipt and other antimicrobial peptides and improves resistance of CO2-exposed flies to infection. Zfh2 mutations also partially rescue hypercapnia-induced delays in egg hatching, suggesting that Zfh2's role in mediating responses to hypercapnia extends beyond the immune system. Taken together, to our knowledge, these results identify Zfh2 as the first in vivo mediator of hypercapnic immune suppression.
Damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs), so-called "danger signals," play important roles in host defense and pathophysiology in mammals and insects. In Drosophila, the Toll pathway confers damage responses during bacterial infection and improper cell-fate control. However, the intrinsic ligands and signaling mechanisms that potentiate innate immune responses remain unknown. Here, we demonstrate that a Drosophila larva-derived tissue extract strongly elicits Toll pathway activation via the Toll receptor. Using this extract, we performed ex vivo genome-wide RNAi screening in Drosophila cultured cells, and identified several signaling factors that are required for host defense and antimicrobial-peptide expression in Drosophila adults. These results suggest that our larva-derived tissue extract contains active ingredients that mediate Toll pathway activation, and the screening data will shed light on the mechanisms of damage-related Toll pathway signaling in Drosophila.
Nuclear actin plays an important role in many processes that regulate gene expression. Cytoplasmic actin dynamics are tightly controlled by numerous actin-binding proteins, but regulation of nuclear actin has remained unclear. Here, we performed a genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screen in Drosophila cells to identify proteins that influence either nuclear polymerization or import of actin. We validate 19 factors as specific hits, and show that Chinmo (known as Bach2 in mammals), SNF4Aγ (Prkag1 in mammals) and Rab18 play a role in nuclear localization of actin in both fly and mammalian cells. We identify several new regulators of cofilin activity, and characterize modulators of both cofilin kinases and phosphatase. For example, Chinmo/Bach2, which regulates nuclear actin levels also in vivo, maintains active cofilin by repressing the expression of the kinase Cdi (Tesk in mammals). Finally, we show that Nup98 and lamin are candidates for regulating nuclear actin polymerization. Our screen therefore reveals new aspects of actin regulation and links nuclear actin to many cellular processes.
The Drosophila Toll pathway plays important roles in innate immune responses against Gram-positive bacteria and fungi. To identify previously uncharacterized components of this pathway, we performed comparative, ex vivo, genome-wide RNA interference screening. In four screens, we overexpressed the Toll adaptor protein dMyd88, the downstream kinase Pelle, or the nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) homolog Dif, or we knocked down Cactus, the Drosophila homolog of mammalian inhibitor of NF-κB. On the basis of these screens, we identified the E3 ubiquitin ligase Sherpa as being necessary for the activation of Toll signaling. A loss-of-function sherpa mutant fly exhibited compromised production of antimicrobial peptides and enhanced susceptibility to infection by Gram-positive bacteria. In cultured cells, Sherpa mediated ubiquitylation of dMyd88 and Sherpa itself, and Sherpa and Drosophila SUMO (small ubiquitin-like modifier) were required for the proper membrane localization of an adaptor complex containing dMyd88. These findings highlight a role for Sherpa in Drosophila host defense and suggest the SUMOylation-mediated regulation of dMyd88 functions in Toll innate immune signaling.
A wide variety of RNAs encode small open-reading-frame (smORF/sORF) peptides, but their functions are largely unknown. Here, we show that Drosophila polished-rice (pri) sORF peptides trigger proteasome-mediated protein processing, converting the Shavenbaby (Svb) transcription repressor into a shorter activator. A genome-wide RNA interference screen identifies an E2-E3 ubiquitin-conjugating complex, UbcD6-Ubr3, which targets Svb to the proteasome in a pri-dependent manner. Upon interaction with Ubr3, Pri peptides promote the binding of Ubr3 to Svb. Ubr3 can then ubiquitinate the Svb N terminus, which is degraded by the proteasome. The C-terminal domains protect Svb from complete degradation and ensure appropriate processing. Our data show that Pri peptides control selectivity of Ubr3 binding, which suggests that the family of sORF peptides may contain an extended repertoire of protein regulators.
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.
Stem cells possess the capacity to generate two cells of distinct fate upon division: one cell retaining stem cell identity and the other cell destined to differentiate. These cell fates are established by cell-type-specific genetic networks. To comprehensively identify components of these networks, we performed a large-scale RNAi screen in Drosophila female germline stem cells (GSCs) covering ∼25% of the genome. The screen identified 366 genes that affect GSC maintenance, differentiation, or other processes involved in oogenesis. Comparison of GSC regulators with neural stem cell self-renewal factors identifies common and cell-type-specific self-renewal genes. Importantly, we identify the histone methyltransferase Set1 as a GSC-specific self-renewal factor. Loss of Set1 in neural stem cells does not affect cell fate decisions, suggesting a differential requirement of H3K4me3 in different stem cell lineages. Altogether, our study provides a resource that will help to further dissect the networks underlying stem cell self-renewal.
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.
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 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.
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.