Cytokinesis involves temporally and spatially coordinated action of the cell cycle and cytoskeletal and membrane systems to achieve separation of daughter cells. To dissect cytokinesis mechanisms it would be useful to have a complete catalog of the proteins involved, and small molecule tools for specifically inhibiting them with tight temporal control. Finding active small molecules by cell-based screening entails the difficult step of identifying their targets. We performed parallel chemical genetic and genome-wide RNA interference screens in Drosophila cells, identifying 50 small molecule inhibitors of cytokinesis and 214 genes important for cytokinesis, including a new protein in the Aurora B pathway (Borr). By comparing small molecule and RNAi phenotypes, we identified a small molecule that inhibits the Aurora B kinase pathway. Our protein list provides a starting point for systematic dissection of cytokinesis, a direction that will be greatly facilitated by also having diverse small molecule inhibitors, which we have identified. Dissection of the Aurora B pathway, where we found a new gene and a specific small molecule inhibitor, should benefit particularly. Our study shows that parallel RNA interference and small molecule screening is a generally useful approach to identifying active small molecules and their target pathways.
BACKGROUND: The diversity of metazoan cell shapes is influenced by the dynamic cytoskeletal network. With the advent of RNA-interference (RNAi) technology, it is now possible to screen systematically for genes controlling specific cell-biological processes, including those required to generate distinct morphologies. RESULTS: We adapted existing RNAi technology in Drosophila cell culture for use in high-throughput screens to enable a comprehensive genetic dissection of cell morphogenesis. To identify genes responsible for the characteristic shape of two morphologically distinct cell lines, we performed RNAi screens in each line with a set of double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) targeting 994 predicted cell shape regulators. Using automated fluorescence microscopy to visualize actin filaments, microtubules and DNA, we detected morphological phenotypes for 160 genes, one-third of which have not been previously characterized in vivo. Genes with similar phenotypes corresponded to known components of pathways controlling cytoskeletal organization and cell shape, leading us to propose similar functions for previously uncharacterized genes. Furthermore, we were able to uncover genes acting within a specific pathway using a co-RNAi screen to identify dsRNA suppressors of a cell shape change induced by Pten dsRNA. CONCLUSIONS: Using RNAi, we identified genes that influence cytoskeletal organization and morphology in two distinct cell types. Some genes exhibited similar RNAi phenotypes in both cell types, while others appeared to have cell-type-specific functions, in part reflecting the different mechanisms used to generate a round or a flat cell morphology.