Apoptosis is an evolutionally conserved cellular suicide mechanism that can be activated in response to a variety of stressful stimuli. Increasing evidence suggests that apoptotic regulation relies on specialized cell death signaling pathways and also integrates diverse signals from additional regulatory circuits, including those of cellular homeostasis. We present a genome-wide RNA interference screen to systematically identify regulators of apoptosis induced by DNA damage in Drosophila melanogaster cells. We identify 47 double- stranded RNA that target a functionally diverse set of genes, including several with a known function in promoting cell death. Further characterization uncovers 10 genes that influence caspase activation upon the removal of Drosophila inhibitor of apoptosis 1. This set includes the Drosophila initiator caspase Dronc and, surprisingly, several metabolic regulators, a candidate tumor suppressor, Charlatan, and an N-acetyltransferase, ARD1. Importantly, several of these genes show functional conservation in regulating apoptosis in mammalian cells. Our data suggest a previously unappreciated fundamental connection between various cellular processes and caspase-dependent cell death.
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.
Phagocytosis is important during development and in the immune response for the removal of apoptotic cells and pathogens, yet its molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the CED2/5/10/12 pathway regulates actin during phagocytosis of apoptotic cells, whereas the role of the CED1/6/7 pathway in phagocytosis is unclear. We report that Undertaker (UTA), a Drosophila Junctophilin protein, is required for Draper (CED-1 homolog)-mediated phagocytosis. Junctophilins couple Ca2+ channels at the plasma membrane to those of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), the Ryanodine receptors. We place Draper, its adaptor drCed-6, UTA, the Ryanodine receptor Rya-r44F, the ER Ca2+ sensor dSTIM, and the Ca2+-release-activated Ca2+ channel dOrai in the same pathway that promotes calcium homeostasis and phagocytosis. Thus, our results implicate a Junctophilin in phagocytosis and link Draper-mediated phagocytosis to Ca2+ homeostasis, highlighting a previously uncharacterized role for the CED1/6/7 pathway.
In multicellular organisms, cell number is typically determined by a balance of intracellular signals that positively and negatively regulate cell survival and proliferation. Dissecting these signaling networks facilitates the understanding of normal development and tumorigenesis. Here, we study signaling by the Drosophila PDGF/VEGF Receptor (Pvr) in embryonic blood cells (hemocytes) and in the related cell line Kc as a model for the requirement of PDGF/VEGF receptors in vertebrate cell survival and proliferation. The system allows the investigation of downstream and parallel signaling networks, based on the ability of Pvr to activate Ras/Erk, Akt/TOR, and yet-uncharacterized signaling pathway/s, which redundantly mediate cell survival and contribute to proliferation. Using Kc cells, we performed a genome wide RNAi screen for regulators of cell number in a sensitized, Pvr deficient background. We identified the receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) Insulin-like receptor (InR) as a major Pvr Enhancer, and the nuclear hormone receptors Ecdysone receptor (EcR) and ultraspiracle (usp), corresponding to mammalian Retinoid X Receptor (RXR), as Pvr Suppressors. In vivo analysis in the Drosophila embryo revealed a previously unrecognized role for EcR to promote apoptotic death of embryonic blood cells, which is balanced with pro-survival signaling by Pvr and InR. Phosphoproteomic analysis demonstrates distinct modes of cell number regulation by EcR and RTK signaling. We define common phosphorylation targets of Pvr and InR that include regulators of cell survival, and unique targets responsible for specialized receptor functions. Interestingly, our analysis reveals that the selection of phosphorylation targets by signaling receptors shows qualitative changes depending on the signaling status of the cell, which may have wide-reaching implications for other cell regulatory systems.