To identify Huntington's Disease therapeutics, we conducted high-content small molecule and RNAi suppressor screens using a Drosophila primary neural culture Huntingtin model. Drosophila primary neurons offer a sensitive readout for neurotoxicty, as their neurites develop dysmorphic features in the presence of mutant polyglutamine-expanded Huntingtin compared to nonpathogenic Huntingtin. By tracking the subcellular distribution of mRFP-tagged pathogenic Huntingtin and assaying neurite branch morphology via live-imaging, we identified suppressors that could reduce Huntingtin aggregation and/or prevent the formation of dystrophic neurites. The custom algorithms we used to quantify neurite morphologies in complex cultures provide a useful tool for future high-content screening approaches focused on neurodegenerative disease models. Compounds previously found to be effective aggregation inhibitors in mammalian systems were also effective in Drosophila primary cultures, suggesting translational capacity between these models. However, we did not observe a direct correlation between the ability of a compound or gene knockdown to suppress aggregate formation and its ability to rescue dysmorphic neurites. Only a subset of aggregation inhibitors could revert dysmorphic cellular profiles. We identified lkb1, an upstream kinase in the mTOR/Insulin pathway, and four novel drugs, Camptothecin, OH-Camptothecin, 18β-Glycyrrhetinic acid, and Carbenoxolone, that were strong suppressors of mutant Huntingtin-induced neurotoxicity. Huntingtin neurotoxicity suppressors identified through our screen also restored viability in an in vivo Drosophila Huntington's Disease model, making them attractive candidates for further therapeutic evaluation.
Characterizing the extent and logic of signaling networks is essential to understanding specificity in such physiological and pathophysiological contexts as cell fate decisions and mechanisms of oncogenesis and resistance to chemotherapy. Cell-based RNA interference (RNAi) screens enable the inference of large numbers of genes that regulate signaling pathways, but these screens cannot provide network structure directly. We describe an integrated network around the canonical receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK)-Ras-extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathway, generated by combining parallel genome-wide RNAi screens with protein-protein interaction (PPI) mapping by tandem affinity purification-mass spectrometry. We found that only a small fraction of the total number of PPI or RNAi screen hits was isolated under all conditions tested and that most of these represented the known canonical pathway components, suggesting that much of the core canonical ERK pathway is known. Because most of the newly identified regulators are likely cell type- and RTK-specific, our analysis provides a resource for understanding how output through this clinically relevant pathway is regulated in different contexts. We report in vivo roles for several of the previously unknown regulators, including CG10289 and PpV, the Drosophila orthologs of two components of the serine/threonine-protein phosphatase 6 complex; the Drosophila ortholog of TepIV, a glycophosphatidylinositol-linked protein mutated in human cancers; CG6453, a noncatalytic subunit of glucosidase II; and Rtf1, a histone methyltransferase.
Systems biology aims to describe the complex interplays between cellular building blocks which, in their concurrence, give rise to the emergent properties observed in cellular behaviors and responses. This approach tries to determine the molecular players and the architectural principles of their interactions within the genetic networks that control certain biological processes. Large-scale loss-of-function screens, applicable in various different model systems, have begun to systematically interrogate entire genomes to identify the genes that contribute to a certain cellular response. In particular, RNA interference (RNAi)-based high-throughput screens have been instrumental in determining the composition of regulatory systems and paired with integrative data analyses have begun to delineate the genetic networks that control cell biological and developmental processes. Through the creation of tools for both, in vitro and in vivo genome-wide RNAi screens, Drosophila melanogaster has emerged as one of the key model organisms in systems biology research and over the last years has massively contributed to and hence shaped this discipline. WIREs Syst Biol Med 2011 3 471-478 DOI: 10.1002/wsbm.127
Akt represents a nodal point between the Insulin receptor and TOR signaling, and its activation by phosphorylation controls cell proliferation, cell size, and metabolism. The activity of Akt must be carefully balanced, as increased Akt signaling is frequently associated with cancer and as insufficient Akt signaling is linked to metabolic disease and diabetes mellitus. Using a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cells in culture, and in vivo analyses in the third instar wing imaginal disc, we studied the regulatory circuitries that define dAkt activation. We provide evidence that negative feedback regulation of dAkt occurs during normal Drosophila development in vivo. Whereas in cell culture dAkt is regulated by S6 Kinase (S6K)-dependent negative feedback, this feedback inhibition only plays a minor role in vivo. In contrast, dAkt activation under wild-type conditions is defined by feedback inhibition that depends on TOR Complex 1 (TORC1), but is S6K-independent. This feedback inhibition is switched from TORC1 to S6K only in the context of enhanced TORC1 activity, as triggered by mutations in tsc2. These results illustrate how the Akt-TOR pathway dynamically adapts the routing of negative feedback in response to the activity load of its signaling circuit in vivo.
Biological networks are highly complex systems, consisting largely of enzymes that act as molecular switches to activate/inhibit downstream targets via post-translational modification. Computational techniques have been developed to perform signaling network inference using some high-throughput data sources, such as those generated from transcriptional and proteomic studies, but comparable methods have not been developed to use high-content morphological data, which are emerging principally from large-scale RNAi screens, to these ends. Here, we describe a systematic computational framework based on a classification model for identifying genetic interactions using high-dimensional single-cell morphological data from genetic screens, apply it to RhoGAP/GTPase regulation in Drosophila, and evaluate its efficacy. Augmented by knowledge of the basic structure of RhoGAP/GTPase signaling, namely, that GAPs act directly upstream of GTPases, we apply our framework for identifying genetic interactions to predict signaling relationships between these proteins. We find that our method makes mediocre predictions using only RhoGAP single-knockdown morphological data, yet achieves vastly improved accuracy by including original data from a double-knockdown RhoGAP genetic screen, which likely reflects the redundant network structure of RhoGAP/GTPase signaling. We consider other possible methods for inference and show that our primary model outperforms the alternatives. This work demonstrates the fundamental fact that high-throughput morphological data can be used in a systematic, successful fashion to identify genetic interactions and, using additional elementary knowledge of network structure, to infer signaling relations.
BACKGROUND: The Notch signaling pathway regulates a diverse array of developmental processes, and aberrant Notch signaling can lead to diseases, including cancer. To obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the genetic network that integrates into Notch signaling, we performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cell culture to identify genes that modify Notch-dependent transcription. RESULTS: Employing complementary data analyses, we found 399 putative modifiers: 189 promoting and 210 antagonizing Notch activated transcription. These modifiers included several known Notch interactors, validating the robustness of the assay. Many novel modifiers were also identified, covering a range of cellular localizations from the extracellular matrix to the nucleus, as well as a large number of proteins with unknown function. Chromatin-modifying proteins represent a major class of genes identified, including histone deacetylase and demethylase complex components and other chromatin modifying, remodeling and replacement factors. A protein-protein interaction map of the Notch-dependent transcription modifiers revealed that a large number of the identified proteins interact physically with these core chromatin components. CONCLUSIONS: The genome-wide RNAi screen identified many genes that can modulate Notch transcriptional output. A protein interaction map of the identified genes highlighted a network of chromatin-modifying enzymes and remodelers that regulate Notch transcription. Our results open new avenues to explore the mechanisms of Notch signal regulation and the integration of this pathway into diverse cellular processes.
BACKGROUND: Insights into how the Frizzled/LRP6 receptor complex receives, transduces and terminates Wnt signals will enhance our understanding of the control of the Wnt/ss-catenin pathway. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In pursuit of such insights, we performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cells expressing an activated form of LRP6 and a beta-catenin-responsive reporter. This screen resulted in the identification of Bili, a Band4.1-domain containing protein, as a negative regulator of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling. We found that the expression of Bili in Drosophila embryos and larval imaginal discs significantly overlaps with the expression of Wingless (Wg), the Drosophila Wnt ortholog, which is consistent with a potential function for Bili in the Wg pathway. We then tested the functions of Bili in both invertebrate and vertebrate animal model systems. Loss-of-function studies in Drosophila and zebrafish embryos, as well as human cultured cells, demonstrate that Bili is an evolutionarily conserved antagonist of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling. Mechanistically, we found that Bili exerts its antagonistic effects by inhibiting the recruitment of AXIN to LRP6 required during pathway activation. CONCLUSIONS: These studies identify Bili as an evolutionarily conserved negative regulator of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway.
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.
BACKGROUND: In multicellular animals, cell size is controlled by a limited set of conserved intracellular signaling pathways, which when deregulated contribute to tumorigenesis by enabling cells to grow outside their usual niche. To delineate the pathways controlling this process, we screened a genome-scale, image-based Drosophila RNA interference dataset for double-stranded RNAs that reduce the average size of adherent S2R+ cells. RESULTS: Automated analysis of images from this RNA interference screen identified the receptor tyrosine kinase Pvr, Ras pathway components and several novel genes as regulators of cell size. Significantly, Pvr/Ras signaling also affected the size of other Drosophila cell lines and of larval hemocytes. A detailed genetic analysis of this growth signaling pathway revealed a role for redundant secreted ligands, Pvf2 and Pvf3, in the establishment of an autocrine growth signaling loop. Downstream of Ras1, growth signaling was found to depend on parallel mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and phospho-inositide-3-kinase (PI3K) signaling modules, as well as the Tor pathway. CONCLUSIONS: This automated genome-wide screen identifies autocrine Pvf/Pvr signaling, upstream of Ras, MAPK and PI3K, as rate-limiting for the growth of immortalized fly cells in culture. Since, Pvf2/3 and Pvr show mutually exclusive in vivo patterns of gene expression, these data suggest that co-expression of this receptor-ligand pair plays a key role in driving cell autonomous growth during the establishment of Drosophila cell lines, as has been suggested to occur during tumor development.
Genome-wide, cell-based screens using high-content screening (HCS) techniques and automated fluorescence microscopy generate thousands of high-content images that contain an enormous wealth of cell biological information. Such screens are key to the analysis of basic cell biological principles, such as control of cell cycle and cell morphology. However, these screens will ultimately only shed light on human disease mechanisms and potential cures if the analysis can keep up with the generation of data. A fundamental step toward automated analysis of high-content screening is to construct a robust platform for automatic cellular phenotype identification. The authors present a framework, consisting of microscopic image segmentation and analysis components, for automatic recognition of cellular phenotypes in the context of the Rho family of small GTPases. To implicate genes involved in Rac signaling, RNA interference (RNAi) was used to perturb gene functions, and the corresponding cellular phenotypes were analyzed for changes. The data used in the experiments are high-content, 3-channel, fluorescence microscopy images of Drosophila Kc167 cultured cells stained with markers that allow visualization of DNA, polymerized actin filaments, and the constitutively activated Rho protein Rac(V12). The performance of this approach was tested using a cellular database that contained more than 1000 samples of 3 predefined cellular phenotypes, and the generalization error was estimated using a cross-validation technique. Moreover, the authors applied this approach to analyze the whole high-content fluorescence images of Drosophila cells for further HCS-based gene function analysis.
Lipid droplets are ubiquitous triglyceride and sterol ester storage organelles required for energy storage homeostasis and biosynthesis. Although little is known about lipid droplet formation and regulation, it is clear that members of the PAT (perilipin, adipocyte differentiation related protein, tail interacting protein of 47 kDa) protein family coat the droplet surface and mediate interactions with lipases that remobilize the stored lipids. We identified key Drosophila candidate genes for lipid droplet regulation by RNA interference (RNAi) screening with an image segmentation-based optical read-out system, and show that these regulatory functions are conserved in the mouse. Those include the vesicle-mediated Coat Protein Complex I (COPI) transport complex, which is required for limiting lipid storage. We found that COPI components regulate the PAT protein composition at the lipid droplet surface, and promote the association of adipocyte triglyceride lipase (ATGL) with the lipid droplet surface to mediate lipolysis. Two compounds known to inhibit COPI function, Exo1 and Brefeldin A, phenocopy COPI knockdowns. Furthermore, RNAi inhibition of ATGL and simultaneous drug treatment indicate that COPI and ATGL function in the same pathway. These data indicate that the COPI complex is an evolutionarily conserved regulator of lipid homeostasis, and highlight an interaction between vesicle transport systems and lipid droplets.
Circadian clocks regulate many different physiological processes and synchronize these to environmental light:dark cycles. In Drosophila, light is transmitted to the clock by a circadian blue light photoreceptor CRYPTOCHROME (CRY). In response to light, CRY promotes the degradation of the circadian clock protein TIMELESS (TIM) and then is itself degraded. To identify novel genes involved in circadian entrainment, we performed an unbiased genome-wide screen in Drosophila cells using a sensitive and quantitative assay that measures light-induced degradation of CRY. We systematically knocked down the expression of approximately 21,000 genes and identified those that regulate CRY stability. These genes include ubiquitin ligases, signal transduction molecules, and redox molecules. Many of the genes identified in the screen are specific for CRY degradation and do not affect degradation of the TIM protein in response to light, suggesting that, for the most part, these two pathways are distinct. We further validated the effect of three candidate genes on CRY stability in vivo by assaying flies mutant for each of these genes. This work identifies a novel regulatory network involved in light-dependent CRY degradation and demonstrates the power of a genome-wide RNAi approach for understanding circadian biology.
Cellular signaling networks have evolved to enable swift and accurate responses, even in the face of genetic or environmental perturbation. Thus, genetic screens may not identify all the genes that regulate different biological processes. Moreover, although classical screening approaches have succeeded in providing parts lists of the essential components of signaling networks, they typically do not provide much insight into the hierarchical and functional relations that exist among these components. We describe a high-throughput screen in which we used RNA interference to systematically inhibit two genes simultaneously in 17,724 combinations to identify regulators of Drosophila JUN NH(2)-terminal kinase (JNK). Using both genetic and phosphoproteomics data, we then implemented an integrative network algorithm to construct a JNK phosphorylation network, which provides structural and mechanistic insights into the systems architecture of JNK signaling.
RNA interference (RNAi) in tissue culture cells has emerged as an excellent methodology for identifying gene functions systematically and in an unbiased manner. Here, we describe how RNAi high-throughput screening (HTS) in Drosophila cells are currently being performed and emphasize the strengths and weaknesses of the approach. Further, to demonstrate the versatility of the technology, we provide examples of the various applications of the method to problems in signal transduction and cell and developmental biology. Finally, we discuss emerging technological advances that will extend RNAi-based screening methods.
Off-target effects have been demonstrated to be a major source of false-positives in RNA interference (RNAi) high-throughput screens. In this study, we re-assess the previously published transcriptional reporter-based whole-genome RNAi screens for the Wingless and Hedgehog signaling pathways using second generation double-stranded RNA libraries. Furthermore, we investigate other factors that may influence the outcome of such screens, including cell-type specificity, robustness of reporters, and assay normalization, which determine the efficacy of RNAi-knockdown of target genes.
Nuclear translocation of Smad proteins is a critical step in signal transduction of transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) and bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). Using nuclear accumulation of the Drosophila Smad Mothers against Decapentaplegic (Mad) as the readout, we carried out a whole-genome RNAi screening in Drosophila cells. The screen identified moleskin (msk) as important for the nuclear import of phosphorylated Mad. Genetic evidence in the developing eye imaginal discs also demonstrates the critical functions of msk in regulating phospho-Mad. Moreover, knockdown of importin 7 and 8 (Imp7 and 8), the mammalian orthologues of Msk, markedly impaired nuclear accumulation of Smad1 in response to BMP2 and of Smad2/3 in response to TGF-beta. Biochemical studies further suggest that Smads are novel nuclear import substrates of Imp7 and 8. We have thus identified new evolutionarily conserved proteins that are important in the signal transduction of TGF-beta and BMP into the nucleus.
Receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) signalling through extracellular-signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) has pivotal roles during metazoan development, underlying processes as diverse as fate determination, differentiation, proliferation, survival, migration and growth. Abnormal RTK/ERK signalling has been extensively documented to contribute to developmental disorders and disease, most notably in oncogenic transformation by mutant RTKs or downstream pathway components such as Ras and Raf. Although the core RTK/ERK signalling cassette has been characterized by decades of research using mammalian cell culture and forward genetic screens in model organisms, signal propagation through this pathway is probably regulated by a larger network of moderate, context-specific proteins. The genes encoding these proteins may not have been discovered through traditional screens owing, in particular, to the requirement for visible phenotypes. To obtain a global view of RTK/ERK signalling, we performed an unbiased, RNA interference (RNAi), genome-wide, high-throughput screen in Drosophila cells using a novel, quantitative, cellular assay monitoring ERK activation. Here we show that ERK pathway output integrates a wide array of conserved cellular processes. Further analysis of selected components-in multiple cell types with different RTK ligands and oncogenic stimuli-validates and classifies 331 pathway regulators. The relevance of these genes is highlighted by our isolation of a Ste20-like kinase and a PPM-family phosphatase that seem to regulate RTK/ERK signalling in vivo and in mammalian cells. Novel regulators that modulate specific pathway outputs may be selective targets for drug discovery.
The Wnt-Wingless (Wg) pathway is one of a core set of evolutionarily conserved signaling pathways that regulates many aspects of metazoan development. Aberrant Wnt signaling has been linked to human disease. In the present study, we used a genomewide RNA interference (RNAi) screen in Drosophila cells to screen for regulators of the Wnt pathway. We identified 238 potential regulators, which include known pathway components, genes with functions not previously linked to this pathway, and genes with no previously assigned functions. Reciprocal-Best-Blast analyses reveal that 50% of the genes identified in the screen have human orthologs, of which approximately 18% are associated with human disease. Functional assays of selected genes from the cell-based screen in Drosophila, mammalian cells, and zebrafish embryos demonstrated that these genes have evolutionarily conserved functions in Wnt signaling. High-throughput RNAi screens in cultured cells, followed by functional analyses in model organisms, prove to be a rapid means of identifying regulators of signaling pathways implicated in development and disease.
Members of the Hedgehog (Hh) family of signaling proteins are powerful regulators of developmental processes in many organisms and have been implicated in many human disease states. Here we report the results of a genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila melanogaster cells for new components of the Hh signaling pathway. The screen identified hundreds of potential new regulators of Hh signaling, including many large protein complexes with pleiotropic effects, such as the coat protein complex I (COPI) complex, the ribosome and the proteasome. We identified the multimeric protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and two new kinases, the D. melanogaster orthologs of the vertebrate PITSLRE and cyclin-dependent kinase-9 (CDK9) kinases, as Hh regulators. We also identified a large group of constitutive and alternative splicing factors, two nucleoporins involved in mRNA export and several RNA-regulatory proteins as potent regulators of Hh signal transduction, indicating that splicing regulation and mRNA transport have a previously unrecognized role in Hh signaling. Finally, we showed that several of these genes have conserved roles in mammalian Hh signaling.
The cytokine-activated Janus kinase (JAK)/signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) pathway plays an important role in the control of a wide variety of biological processes. When misregulated, JAK/STAT signaling is associated with various human diseases, such as immune disorders and tumorigenesis. To gain insights into the mechanisms by which JAK/STAT signaling participates in these diverse biological responses, we carried out a genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screen in cultured Drosophila cells. We identified 121 genes whose double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-mediated knockdowns affected STAT92E activity. Of the 29 positive regulators, 13 are required for the tyrosine phosphorylation of STAT92E. Furthermore, we found that the Drosophila homologs of RanBP3 and RanBP10 are negative regulators of JAK/STAT signaling through their control of nucleocytoplasmic transport of STAT92E. In addition, we identified a key negative regulator of Drosophila JAK/STAT signaling, protein tyrosine phosphatase PTP61F, and showed that it is a transcriptional target of JAK/STAT signaling, thus revealing a novel negative feedback loop. Our study has uncovered many uncharacterized genes required for different steps of the JAK/STAT signaling pathway.