Given the diversity of autophagy targets and regulation, it is important to characterize autophagy in various cell types and conditions. We used a primary myocyte cell culture system to assay the role of putative autophagy regulators in the specific context of skeletal muscle. By treating the cultures with rapamycin (Rap) and chloroquine (CQ) we induced an autophagic response, fully suppressible by knockdown of core ATG genes. We screened D. melanogaster orthologs of a previously reported mammalian autophagy protein-protein interaction network, identifying several proteins required for autophagosome formation in muscle cells, including orthologs of the Rab regulators RabGap1 and Rab3Gap1. The screen also highlighted the critical roles of the proteasome and glycogen metabolism in regulating autophagy. Specifically, sustained proteasome inhibition inhibited autophagosome formation both in primary culture and larval skeletal muscle, even though autophagy normally acts to suppress ubiquitin aggregate formation in these tissues. In addition, analyses of glycogen metabolic genes in both primary cultured and larval muscles indicated that glycogen storage enhances the autophagic response to starvation, an important insight given the link between glycogen storage disorders, autophagy, and muscle function.
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.
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.
While genetic screens have identified many genes essential for neurite outgrowth, they have been limited in their ability to identify neural genes that also have earlier critical roles in the gastrula, or neural genes for which maternally contributed RNA compensates for gene mutations in the zygote. To address this, we developed methods to screen the Drosophila genome using RNA-interference (RNAi) on primary neural cells and present the results of the first full-genome RNAi screen in neurons. We used live-cell imaging and quantitative image analysis to characterize the morphological phenotypes of fluorescently labelled primary neurons and glia in response to RNAi-mediated gene knockdown. From the full genome screen, we focused our analysis on 104 evolutionarily conserved genes that when downregulated by RNAi, have morphological defects such as reduced axon extension, excessive branching, loss of fasciculation, and blebbing. To assist in the phenotypic analysis of the large data sets, we generated image analysis algorithms that could assess the statistical significance of the mutant phenotypes. The algorithms were essential for the analysis of the thousands of images generated by the screening process and will become a valuable tool for future genome-wide screens in primary neurons. Our analysis revealed unexpected, essential roles in neurite outgrowth for genes representing a wide range of functional categories including signalling molecules, enzymes, channels, receptors, and cytoskeletal proteins. We also found that genes known to be involved in protein and vesicle trafficking showed similar RNAi phenotypes. We confirmed phenotypes of the protein trafficking genes Sec61alpha and Ran GTPase using Drosophila embryo and mouse embryonic cerebral cortical neurons, respectively. Collectively, our results showed that RNAi phenotypes in primary neural culture can parallel in vivo phenotypes, and the screening technique can be used to identify many new genes that have important functions in the nervous system.
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.
Hedgehog (Hh) proteins are secreted molecules that function as organizers in animal development. In addition to being palmitoylated, Hh is the only metazoan protein known to possess a covalently-linked cholesterol moiety. The absence of either modification severely disrupts the organization of numerous tissues during development. It is currently not known how lipid-modified Hh is secreted and released from producing cells. We have performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila melanogaster cells to identify regulators of Hh secretion. We found that cholesterol-modified Hh secretion is strongly dependent on coat protein complex I (COPI) but not COPII vesicles, suggesting that cholesterol modification alters the movement of Hh through the early secretory pathway. We provide evidence that both proteolysis and cholesterol modification are necessary for the efficient trafficking of Hh through the ER and Golgi. Finally, we identified several putative regulators of protein secretion and demonstrate a role for some of these genes in Hh and Wingless (Wg) morphogen secretion in vivo. These data open new perspectives for studying how morphogen secretion is regulated, as well as provide insight into regulation of lipid-modified protein secretion.
Precise regulation of the NFAT (nuclear factor of activated T cells) family of transcription factors (NFAT1-4) is essential for vertebrate development and function. In resting cells, NFAT proteins are heavily phosphorylated and reside in the cytoplasm; in cells exposed to stimuli that raise intracellular free Ca2+ levels, they are dephosphorylated by the calmodulin-dependent phosphatase calcineurin and translocate to the nucleus. NFAT dephosphorylation by calcineurin is countered by distinct NFAT kinases, among them casein kinase 1 (CK1) and glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3). Here we have used a genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screen in Drosophila to identify additional regulators of the signalling pathway leading from Ca2+-calcineurin to NFAT. This screen was successful because the pathways regulating NFAT subcellular localization (Ca2+ influx, Ca2+-calmodulin-calcineurin signalling and NFAT kinases) are conserved across species, even though Ca2+-regulated NFAT proteins are not themselves represented in invertebrates. Using the screen, we have identified DYRKs (dual-specificity tyrosine-phosphorylation regulated kinases) as novel regulators of NFAT. DYRK1A and DYRK2 counter calcineurin-mediated dephosphorylation of NFAT1 by directly phosphorylating the conserved serine-proline repeat 3 (SP-3) motif of the NFAT regulatory domain, thus priming further phosphorylation of the SP-2 and serine-rich region 1 (SRR-1) motifs by GSK3 and CK1, respectively. Thus, genetic screening in Drosophila can be successfully applied to cross evolutionary boundaries and identify new regulators of a transcription factor that is expressed only in vertebrates.
Metazoan replication-dependent histone mRNAs are not polyadenylated and instead end in a conserved stem loop that is the cis element responsible for coordinate posttranscriptional regulation of these mRNAs. Using biochemical approaches, only a limited number of factors required for cleavage of histone pre-mRNA have been identified. We therefore performed a genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila cells using a GFP reporter that is expressed only when histone pre-mRNA processing is disrupted. Four of the 24 genes identified encode proteins also necessary for cleavage/polyadenylation, indicating mechanistic conservation in formation of different mRNA 3' ends. We also unexpectedly identified the histone variants H2Av and H3.3A/B. In H2Av mutant cells, U7 snRNP remains active but fails to accumulate at the histone locus, suggesting there is a regulatory pathway that coordinates the production of variant and canonical histones that acts via localization of essential histone pre-mRNA processing factors.
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.
The DNA damage checkpoint, the first pathway known to be activated in response to DNA damage, is a mechanism by which the cell cycle is temporarily arrested to allow DNA repair. The checkpoint pathway transmits signals from the sites of DNA damage to the cell cycle machinery through the evolutionarily conserved ATM (ataxia telangiectasia mutated) and ATR (ATM- and Rad3-related) kinase cascades. We conducted a genome-wide RNAi (RNA interference) screen in Drosophila cells to identify previously unknown genes and pathways required for the G₂-M checkpoint induced by DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). Our large-scale analysis provided a systems-level view of the G₂-M checkpoint and revealed the coordinated actions of particular classes of proteins, which include those involved in DNA repair, DNA replication, cell cycle control, chromatin regulation, and RNA processing. Further, from the screen and in vivo analysis, we identified previously unrecognized roles of two DNA damage response genes, mus101 and mus312. Our results suggest that the DNA replication preinitiation complex, which includes MUS101, and the MUS312-containing nuclease complexes, which are important for DSB repair, also function in the G₂-M checkpoint. Our results provide insight into the diverse mechanisms that link DNA damage and the checkpoint signaling pathway.
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.
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 widespread class of RNA viruses that utilize internal ribosome entry sites (IRESs) for translation include poliovirus and Hepatitis C virus. To identify host factors required for IRES-dependent translation and viral replication, we performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cells infected with Drosophila C virus (DCV). We identified 66 ribosomal proteins that, when depleted, specifically inhibit DCV growth, but not a non-IRES-containing RNA virus. Moreover, treatment of flies with a translation inhibitor is protective in vivo. Finally, this increased sensitivity to ribosome levels also holds true for poliovirus infection of human cells, demonstrating the generality of these findings.
Regulation of chromatin structure is critical in many fundamental cellular processes. Previous studies have suggested that the Rb tumor suppressor may recruit multiple chromatin regulatory proteins to repress E2F, a key regulator of cell proliferation and differentiation. Taking advantage of the evolutionary conservation of the E2F pathway, we have conducted a genome-wide RNAi screen in cultured Drosophila cells for genes required for repression of E2F activity. Among the genes identified are components of the putative Domino chromatin remodeling complex, as well as the Polycomb Group (PcG) protein-like fly tumor suppressor, L3mbt, and the related CG16975/dSfmbt. These factors are recruited to E2F-responsive promoters through physical association with E2F and are required for repression of endogenous E2F target genes. Surprisingly, their inhibitory activities on E2F appear to be independent of Rb. In Drosophila, domino mutation enhances cell proliferation induced by E2F overexpression and suppresses a loss-of-function cyclin E mutation. These findings suggest that potential chromatin regulation mediated by Domino and PcG-like factors plays an important role in controlling E2F activity and cell growth.
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.