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.
Defects in miRNA biogenesis or activity are associated to development abnormalities and diseases. In Drosophila, miRNAs are predominantly loaded in Argonaute-1, which they guide for silencing of target RNAs. The miRNA pathway overlaps the RNAi pathway in this organism, as miRNAs may also associate with Argonaute-2, the mediator of RNAi. We set up a gene construct in which a single inducible promoter directs the expression of the GFP protein as well as two miRNAs perfectly matching the GFP sequences. We show that self-silencing of the resulting automiG gene requires Drosha, Pasha, Dicer-1, Dicer-2 and Argonaute-2 loaded with the anti-GFP miRNAs. In contrast, self-silencing of the automiG gene does not involve Argonaute-1. Thus, automiG reports in vivo for both miRNA biogenesis and Ago-2 mediated silencing, providing a powerful biosensor to identify situations where miRNA or siRNA pathways are impaired. As a proof of concept, we used automiG as a biosensor to screen a chemical library and identified 29 molecules that strongly inhibit miRNA silencing, out of which 5 also inhibit RNAi triggered by long double-stranded RNA. Finally, the automiG sensor is also self-silenced by the anti-GFP miRNAs in HeLa cells and might be easily used to identify factors involved in miRNA biogenesis and silencing guided by perfect target complementarity in mammals.
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.
In a developing Drosophila melanogaster embryo, mRNAs have a maternal origin, a zygotic origin, or both. During the maternal-zygotic transition, maternal products are degraded and gene expression comes under the control of the zygotic genome. To interrogate the function of mRNAs that are both maternally and zygotically expressed, it is common to examine the embryonic phenotypes derived from female germline mosaics. Recently, the development of RNAi vectors based on short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) effective during oogenesis has provided an alternative to producing germline clones. Here, we evaluate the efficacies of: (1) maternally loaded shRNAs to knockdown zygotic transcripts and (2) maternally loaded Gal4 protein to drive zygotic shRNA expression. We show that, while Gal4-driven shRNAs in the female germline very effectively generate phenotypes for genes expressed maternally, maternally loaded shRNAs are not very effective at generating phenotypes for early zygotic genes. However, maternally loaded Gal4 protein is very efficient at generating phenotypes for zygotic genes expressed during mid-embryogenesis. We apply this powerful and simple method to unravel the embryonic functions of a number of pleiotropic genes.
Store-operated calcium entry (SOCE) by calcium release activated calcium (CRAC) channels constitutes a primary route of calcium entry in most cells. Orai1 forms the pore subunit of CRAC channels and Stim1 is the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) resident Ca(2+) sensor. Upon store-depletion, Stim1 translocates to domains of ER adjacent to the plasma membrane where it interacts with and clusters Orai1 hexamers to form the CRAC channel complex. Molecular steps enabling activation of SOCE via CRAC channel clusters remain incompletely defined. Here we identify an essential role of α-SNAP in mediating functional coupling of Stim1 and Orai1 molecules to activate SOCE. This role for α-SNAP is direct and independent of its known activity in NSF dependent SNARE complex disassembly. Importantly, Stim1-Orai1 clustering still occurs in the absence of α-SNAP but its inability to support SOCE reveals that a previously unsuspected molecular re-arrangement within CRAC channel clusters is necessary for SOCE. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00802.001.
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 evaluation of specific endogenous transcript levels is important for understanding transcriptional regulation. More specifically, it is useful for independent confirmation of results obtained by the use of microarray analysis or RNA-seq and for evaluating RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated gene knockdown. Designing specific and effective primers for high-quality, moderate-throughput evaluation of transcript levels, i.e., quantitative, real-time PCR (qPCR), is nontrivial. To meet community needs, predefined qPCR primer pairs for mammalian genes have been designed and sequences made available, e.g., via PrimerBank. In this work, we adapted and refined the algorithms used for the mammalian PrimerBank to design 45,417 primer pairs for 13,860 Drosophila melanogaster genes, with three or more primer pairs per gene. We experimentally validated primer pairs for ~300 randomly selected genes expressed in early Drosophila embryos, using SYBR Green-based qPCR and sequence analysis of products derived from conventional PCR. All relevant information, including primer sequences, isoform specificity, spatial transcript targeting, and any available validation results and/or user feedback, is available from an online database (www.flyrnai.org/flyprimerbank). At FlyPrimerBank, researchers can retrieve primer information for fly genes either one gene at a time or in batch mode. Importantly, we included the overlap of each predicted amplified sequence with RNAi reagents from several public resources, making it possible for researchers to choose primers suitable for knockdown evaluation of RNAi reagents (i.e., to avoid amplification of the RNAi reagent itself). We demonstrate the utility of this resource for validation of RNAi reagents in vivo.
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 ability to engineer genomes in a specific, systematic, and cost-effective way is critical for functional genomic studies. Recent advances using the CRISPR-associated single-guide RNA system (Cas9/sgRNA) illustrate the potential of this simple system for genome engineering in a number of organisms. Here we report an effective and inexpensive method for genome DNA editing in Drosophila melanogaster whereby plasmid DNAs encoding short sgRNAs under the control of the U6b promoter are injected into transgenic flies in which Cas9 is specifically expressed in the germ line via the nanos promoter. We evaluate the off-targets associated with the method and establish a Web-based resource, along with a searchable, genome-wide database of predicted sgRNAs appropriate for genome engineering in flies. Finally, we discuss the advantages of our method in comparison with other recently published approaches.
Analysis of high-throughput data increasingly relies on pathway annotation and functional information derived from Gene Ontology. This approach has limitations, in particular for the analysis of network dynamics over time or under different experimental conditions, in which modules within a network rather than complete pathways might respond and change. We report an analysis framework based on protein complexes, which are at the core of network reorganization. We generated a protein complex resource for human, Drosophila, and yeast from the literature and databases of protein-protein interaction networks, with each species having thousands of complexes. We developed COMPLEAT (http://www.flyrnai.org/compleat), a tool for data mining and visualization for complex-based analysis of high-throughput data sets, as well as analysis and integration of heterogeneous proteomics and gene expression data sets. With COMPLEAT, we identified dynamically regulated protein complexes among genome-wide RNA interference data sets that used the abundance of phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase in cells stimulated with either insulin or epidermal growth factor as the output. The analysis predicted that the Brahma complex participated in the insulin response.
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.
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.