Cell-based high content screening (HCS) is becoming an important and increasingly favored approach in therapeutic drug discovery and functional genomics. In HCS, changes in cellular morphology and biomarker distributions provide an information-rich profile of cellular responses to experimental treatments such as small molecules or gene knockdown probes. One obstacle that currently exists with such cell-based assays is the availability of image processing algorithms that are capable of reliably and automatically analyzing large HCS image sets. HCS images of primary neuronal cell cultures are particularly challenging to analyze due to complex cellular morphology. Here we present a robust method for quantifying and statistically analyzing the morphology of neuronal cells in HCS images. The major advantages of our method over existing software lie in its capability to correct non-uniform illumination using the contrast-limited adaptive histogram equalization method; segment neuromeres using Gabor-wavelet texture analysis; and detect faint neurites by a novel phase-based neurite extraction algorithm that is invariant to changes in illumination and contrast and can accurately localize neurites. Our method was successfully applied to analyze a large HCS image set generated in a morphology screen for polyglutamine-mediated neuronal toxicity using primary neuronal cell cultures derived from embryos of a Drosophila Huntington's Disease (HD) model.
BACKGROUND: A genomic catalogue of protein-protein interactions is a rich source of information, particularly for exploring the relationships between proteins. Numerous systems-wide and small-scale experiments have been conducted to identify interactions; however, our knowledge of all interactions for any one species is incomplete, and alternative means to expand these network maps is needed. We therefore took a comparative biology approach to predict protein-protein interactions across five species (human, mouse, fly, worm, and yeast) and developed InterologFinder for research biologists to easily navigate this data. We also developed a confidence score for interactions based on available experimental evidence and conservation across species. RESULTS: The connectivity of the resultant networks was determined to have scale-free distribution, small-world properties, and increased local modularity, indicating that the added interactions do not disrupt our current understanding of protein network structures. We show examples of how these improved interactomes can be used to analyze a genome-scale dataset (RNAi screen) and to assign new function to proteins. Predicted interactions within this dataset were tested by co-immunoprecipitation, resulting in a high rate of validation, suggesting the high quality of networks produced. CONCLUSIONS: Protein-protein interactions were predicted in five species, based on orthology. An InteroScore, a score accounting for homology, number of orthologues with evidence of interactions, and number of unique observations of interactions, is given to each known and predicted interaction. Our website http://www.interologfinder.org provides research biologists intuitive access to this data.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of short noncoding RNAs that regulate protein-coding genes posttranscriptionally. In animals, most known miRNA targeting occurs within the 3'UTR of mRNAs, but the extent of biologically relevant targeting in the ORF or 5'UTR of mRNAs remains unknown. Here, we develop an algorithm (MinoTar-miRNA ORF Targets) to identify conserved regulatory motifs within protein-coding regions and use it to estimate the number of preferentially conserved miRNA-target sites in ORFs. We show that, in Drosophila, preferentially conserved miRNA targeting in ORFs is as widespread as it is in 3'UTRs and that, while far less abundant, conserved targets in Drosophila 5'UTRs number in the hundreds. Using our algorithm, we predicted a set of high-confidence ORF targets and selected seven miRNA-target pairs from among these for experimental validation. We observed down-regulation by the miRNA in five out of seven cases, indicating our approach can recover functional sites with high confidence. Additionally, we observed additive targeting by multiple sites within a single ORF. Altogether, our results demonstrate that the scale of biologically important miRNA targeting in ORFs is extensive and that computational tools such as ours can aid in the identification of such targets. Further evidence suggests that our results extend to mammals, but that the extent of ORF and 5'UTR targeting relative to 3'UTR targeting may be greater in Drosophila.
Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are a family of evolutionary conserved alpha-beta heterodimeric transcription factors that induce a wide range of genes in response to low oxygen tension. Molecular mechanisms that mediate oxygen-dependent HIF regulation operate at the level of the alpha subunit, controlling protein stability, subcellular localization, and transcriptional coactivator recruitment. We have conducted an unbiased genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screen in Drosophila cells aimed to the identification of genes required for HIF activity. After 3 rounds of selection, 30 genes emerged as critical HIF regulators in hypoxia, most of which had not been previously associated with HIF biology. The list of genes includes components of chromatin remodeling complexes, transcription elongation factors, and translational regulators. One remarkable hit was the argonaute 1 (ago1) gene, a central element of the microRNA (miRNA) translational silencing machinery. Further studies confirmed the physiological role of the miRNA machinery in HIF-dependent transcription. This study reveals the occurrence of novel mechanisms of HIF regulation, which might contribute to developing novel strategies for therapeutic intervention of HIF-related pathologies, including heart attack, cancer, and stroke.
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.
Protein aggregates are a common pathological feature of most neurodegenerative diseases (NDs). Understanding their formation and regulation will help clarify their controversial roles in disease pathogenesis. To date, there have been few systematic studies of aggregates formation in Drosophila, a model organism that has been applied extensively in modeling NDs and screening for toxicity modifiers. We generated transgenic fly lines that express enhanced-GFP-tagged mutant Huntingtin (Htt) fragments with different lengths of polyglutamine (polyQ) tract and showed that these Htt mutants develop protein aggregates in a polyQ-length- and age-dependent manner in Drosophila. To identify central regulators of protein aggregation, we further generated stable Drosophila cell lines expressing these Htt mutants and also established a cell-based quantitative assay that allows automated measurement of aggregates within cells. We then performed a genomewide RNA interference screen for regulators of mutant Htt aggregation and isolated 126 genes involved in diverse cellular processes. Interestingly, although our screen focused only on mutant Htt aggregation, several of the identified candidates were known previously as toxicity modifiers of NDs. Moreover, modulating the in vivo activity of hsp110 (CG6603) or tra1, two hits from the screen, affects neurodegeneration in a dose-dependent manner in a Drosophila model of Huntington's disease. Thus, other aggregates regulators isolated in our screen may identify additional genes involved in the protein-folding pathway and neurotoxicity.
Genetic screens in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae have identified many proteins involved in the secretory pathway, most of which have orthologues in higher eukaryotes. To investigate whether there are additional proteins that are required for secretion in metazoans but are absent from yeast, we used genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) to look for genes required for secretion of recombinant luciferase from Drosophila S2 cells. This identified two novel components of the secretory pathway that are conserved from humans to plants. Gryzun is distantly related to, but distinct from, the Trs130 subunit of the TRAPP complex but is absent from S. cerevisiae. RNAi of human Gryzun (C4orf41) blocks Golgi exit. Kish is a small membrane protein with a previously uncharacterised orthologue in yeast. The screen also identified Drosophila orthologues of almost 60% of the yeast genes essential for secretion. Given this coverage, the small number of novel components suggests that contrary to previous indications the number of essential core components of the secretory pathway is not much greater in metazoans than in yeasts.
RNA interference (RNAi) is an effective tool for genome-scale, high-throughput analysis of gene function. In the past five years, a number of genome-scale RNAi high-throughput screens (HTSs) have been done in both Drosophila and mammalian cultured cells to study diverse biological processes, including signal transduction, cancer biology, and host cell responses to infection. Results from these screens have led to the identification of new components of these processes and, importantly, have also provided insights into the complexity of biological systems, forcing new and innovative approaches to understanding functional networks in cells. Here, we review the main findings that have emerged from RNAi HTS and discuss technical issues that remain to be improved, in particular the verification of RNAi results and validation of their biological relevance. Furthermore, we discuss the importance of multiplexed and integrated experimental data analysis pipelines to RNAi HTS.
Francisella tularensis is a highly infectious facultative intracellular bacterium that can be transmitted between mammals by arthropod vectors. Similar to many other intracellular bacteria that replicate within the cytosol, such as Listeria, Shigella, Burkholderia, and Rickettsia, the virulence of F. tularensis depends on its ability to modulate biogenesis of its phagosome and to escape into the host cell cytosol where it proliferates. Recent studies have identified the F. tularensis genes required for modulation of phagosome biogenesis and escape into the host cell cytosol within human and arthropod-derived cells. However, the arthropod and mammalian host factors required for intracellular proliferation of F. tularensis are not known. We have utilized a forward genetic approach employing genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila melanogaster-derived cells. Screening a library of approximately 21,300 RNAi, we have identified at least 186 host factors required for intracellular bacterial proliferation. We silenced twelve mammalian homologues by RNAi in HEK293T cells and identified three conserved factors, the PI4 kinase PI4KCA, the ubiquitin hydrolase USP22, and the ubiquitin ligase CDC27, which are also required for replication in human cells. The PI4KCA and USP22 mammalian factors are not required for modulation of phagosome biogenesis or phagosomal escape but are required for proliferation within the cytosol. In contrast, the CDC27 ubiquitin ligase is required for evading lysosomal fusion and for phagosomal escape into the cytosol. Although F. tularensis interacts with the autophagy pathway during late stages of proliferation in mouse macrophages, this does not occur in human cells. Our data suggest that F. tularensis utilizes host ubiquitin turnover in distinct mechanisms during the phagosomal and cytosolic phases and phosphoinositide metabolism is essential for cytosolic proliferation of F. tularensis. Our data will facilitate deciphering molecular ecology, patho-adaptation of F. tularensis to the arthropod vector and its role in bacterial ecology and patho-evolution to infect mammals.
RNA interference (RNAi) provides a powerful reverse genetics approach to analyze gene functions both in tissue culture and in vivo. Because of its widespread applicability and effectiveness it has become an essential part of the tool box kits of model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, and the mouse. In addition, the use of RNAi in animals in which genetic tools are either poorly developed or nonexistent enables a myriad of fundamental questions to be asked. Here, we review the methods and applications of in vivo RNAi to characterize gene functions in model organisms and discuss their impact to the study of developmental as well as evolutionary questions. Further, we discuss the applications of RNAi technologies to crop improvement, pest control and RNAi therapeutics, thus providing an appreciation of the potential for phenomenal applications of RNAi to agriculture and medicine.
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.
Poxviruses include medically important human pathogens, yet little is known about the specific cellular factors essential for their replication. To identify genes essential for poxvirus infection, we used high-throughput RNA interference to screen the Drosophila kinome for factors required for vaccinia infection. We identified seven genes including the three subunits of AMPK as promoting vaccinia infection. AMPK not only facilitated infection in insect cells, but also in mammalian cells. Moreover, we found that AMPK is required for macropinocytosis, a major endocytic entry pathway for vaccinia. Furthermore, we show that AMPK contributes to other virus-independent actin-dependent processes including lamellipodia formation and wound healing, independent of the known AMPK activators LKB1 and CaMKK. Therefore, AMPK plays a highly conserved role in poxvirus infection and actin dynamics independent of its role as an energy regulator.
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.
RNAi-mediated gene knockdown in Drosophila melanogaster is a powerful method to analyze loss-of-function phenotypes both in cell culture and in vivo. However, it has also become clear that false positives caused by off-target effects are prevalent, requiring careful validation of RNAi-induced phenotypes. The most rigorous proof that an RNAi-induced phenotype is due to loss of its intended target is to rescue the phenotype by a transgene impervious to RNAi. For large-scale validations in the mouse and Caenorhabditis elegans, this has been accomplished by using bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs) of related species. However, in Drosophila, this approach is not feasible because transformation of large BACs is inefficient. We have therefore developed a general RNAi rescue approach for Drosophila that employs Cre/loxP-mediated recombination to rapidly retrofit existing fosmid clones into rescue constructs. Retrofitted fosmid clones carry a selection marker and a phiC31 attB site, which facilitates the production of transgenic animals. Here, we describe our approach and demonstrate proof-of-principle experiments showing that D. pseudoobscura fosmids can successfully rescue RNAi-induced phenotypes in D. melanogaster, both in cell culture and in vivo. Altogether, the tools and method that we have developed provide a gold standard for validation of Drosophila RNAi experiments.
We provide a detailed protocol for the mass culturing of primary cells dissociated from Drosophila embryos. The advantage of this protocol over others is that we have optimized it for a robust large-scale performance that is suitable for screening. More importantly, we further present conditions to treat these cells with double stranded (ds) RNAs for gene knockdown. Efficient RNAi in Drosophila primary cells is accomplished by simply bathing the cells in dsRNA-containing culture medium. This method provides the basis for functional genomic screens in differentiated cells, such as neurons and muscles, using RNAi or small molecules. The entire protocol takes approximately 14 d, whereas the preparation of primary cells from Drosophila embryos only requires 2-4 h.
October M Sessions, Nicholas J Barrows, Jayme A Souza-Neto, Timothy J Robinson, Christine L Hershey, Mary A Rodgers, Jose L Ramirez, George Dimopoulos, Priscilla L Yang, James L Pearson, and Mariano A Garcia-Blanco. 2009. “Discovery of insect and human dengue virus host factors.” Nature, 458, 7241, Pp. 1047-50.Abstract
Dengue fever is the most frequent arthropod-borne viral disease of humans, with almost half of the world's population at risk of infection. The high prevalence, lack of an effective vaccine, and absence of specific treatment conspire to make dengue fever a global public health threat. Given their compact genomes, dengue viruses (DENV-1-4) and other flaviviruses probably require an extensive number of host factors; however, only a limited number of human, and an even smaller number of insect host factors, have been identified. Here we identify insect host factors required for DENV-2 propagation, by carrying out a genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila melanogaster cells using a well-established 22,632 double-stranded RNA library. This screen identified 116 candidate dengue virus host factors (DVHFs). Although some were previously associated with flaviviruses (for example, V-ATPases and alpha-glucosidases), most of the DVHFs were newly implicated in dengue virus propagation. The dipteran DVHFs had 82 readily recognizable human homologues and, using a targeted short-interfering-RNA screen, we showed that 42 of these are human DVHFs. This indicates notable conservation of required factors between dipteran and human hosts. This work suggests new approaches to control infection in the insect vector and the mammalian host.
Conditional expression of hairpin constructs in Drosophila is a powerful method to disrupt the activity of single genes with a spatial and temporal resolution that is impossible, or exceedingly difficult, using classical genetic methods. We previously described a method (Ni et al. 2008) whereby RNAi constructs are targeted into the genome by the phiC31-mediated integration approach using Vermilion-AttB-Loxp-Intron-UAS-MCS (VALIUM), a vector that contains vermilion as a selectable marker, an attB sequence to allow for phiC31-targeted integration at genomic attP landing sites, two pentamers of UAS, the hsp70 core promoter, a multiple cloning site, and two introns. As the level of gene activity knockdown associated with transgenic RNAi depends on the level of expression of the hairpin constructs, we generated a number of derivatives of our initial vector, called the "VALIUM" series, to improve the efficiency of the method. Here, we report the results from the systematic analysis of these derivatives and characterize VALIUM10 as the most optimal vector of this series. A critical feature of VALIUM10 is the presence of gypsy insulator sequences that boost dramatically the level of knockdown. We document the efficacy of VALIUM as a vector to analyze the phenotype of genes expressed in the nervous system and have generated a library of 2282 constructs targeting 2043 genes that will be particularly useful for studies of the nervous system as they target, in particular, transcription factors, ion channels, and transporters.
Mitochondria are integral components of cellular calcium (Ca2+) signaling. Calcium stimulates mitochondrial adenosine 5'-triphosphate production, but can also initiate apoptosis. In turn, cytoplasmic Ca2+ concentrations are regulated by mitochondria. Although several transporter and ion-channel mechanisms have been measured in mitochondria, the molecules that govern Ca2+ movement across the inner mitochondrial membrane are unknown. We searched for genes that regulate mitochondrial Ca2+ and H+ concentrations using a genome-wide Drosophila RNA interference (RNAi) screen. The mammalian homolog of one Drosophila gene identified in the screen, Letm1, was found to specifically mediate coupled Ca2+/H+ exchange. RNAi knockdown, overexpression, and liposome reconstitution of the purified Letm1 protein demonstrate that Letm1 is a mitochondrial Ca2+/H+ antiporter.
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.