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.
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.
To identify Huntington's Disease therapeutics, we conducted high-content small molecule and RNAi suppressor screens using a Drosophila primary neural culture Huntingtin model. Drosophila primary neurons offer a sensitive readout for neurotoxicty, as their neurites develop dysmorphic features in the presence of mutant polyglutamine-expanded Huntingtin compared to nonpathogenic Huntingtin. By tracking the subcellular distribution of mRFP-tagged pathogenic Huntingtin and assaying neurite branch morphology via live-imaging, we identified suppressors that could reduce Huntingtin aggregation and/or prevent the formation of dystrophic neurites. The custom algorithms we used to quantify neurite morphologies in complex cultures provide a useful tool for future high-content screening approaches focused on neurodegenerative disease models. Compounds previously found to be effective aggregation inhibitors in mammalian systems were also effective in Drosophila primary cultures, suggesting translational capacity between these models. However, we did not observe a direct correlation between the ability of a compound or gene knockdown to suppress aggregate formation and its ability to rescue dysmorphic neurites. Only a subset of aggregation inhibitors could revert dysmorphic cellular profiles. We identified lkb1, an upstream kinase in the mTOR/Insulin pathway, and four novel drugs, Camptothecin, OH-Camptothecin, 18β-Glycyrrhetinic acid, and Carbenoxolone, that were strong suppressors of mutant Huntingtin-induced neurotoxicity. Huntingtin neurotoxicity suppressors identified through our screen also restored viability in an in vivo Drosophila Huntington's Disease model, making them attractive candidates for further therapeutic evaluation.
Although classical genetic and biochemical approaches have identified hundreds of proteins that function in the dynamic remodeling of cell shape in response to upstream signals, there is currently little systems-level understanding of the organization and composition of signaling networks that regulate cell morphology. We have developed quantitative morphological profiling methods to systematically investigate the role of individual genes in the regulation of cell morphology in a fast, robust, and cost-efficient manner. We analyzed a compendium of quantitative morphological signatures and described the existence of local signaling networks that act to regulate cell protrusion, adhesion, and tension.
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.
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.
BACKGROUND: In multicellular animals, cell size is controlled by a limited set of conserved intracellular signaling pathways, which when deregulated contribute to tumorigenesis by enabling cells to grow outside their usual niche. To delineate the pathways controlling this process, we screened a genome-scale, image-based Drosophila RNA interference dataset for double-stranded RNAs that reduce the average size of adherent S2R+ cells. RESULTS: Automated analysis of images from this RNA interference screen identified the receptor tyrosine kinase Pvr, Ras pathway components and several novel genes as regulators of cell size. Significantly, Pvr/Ras signaling also affected the size of other Drosophila cell lines and of larval hemocytes. A detailed genetic analysis of this growth signaling pathway revealed a role for redundant secreted ligands, Pvf2 and Pvf3, in the establishment of an autocrine growth signaling loop. Downstream of Ras1, growth signaling was found to depend on parallel mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and phospho-inositide-3-kinase (PI3K) signaling modules, as well as the Tor pathway. CONCLUSIONS: This automated genome-wide screen identifies autocrine Pvf/Pvr signaling, upstream of Ras, MAPK and PI3K, as rate-limiting for the growth of immortalized fly cells in culture. Since, Pvf2/3 and Pvr show mutually exclusive in vivo patterns of gene expression, these data suggest that co-expression of this receptor-ligand pair plays a key role in driving cell autonomous growth during the establishment of Drosophila cell lines, as has been suggested to occur during tumor development.
Although a large number of actin-binding proteins and their regulators have been identified through classical approaches, gaps in our knowledge remain. Here, we used genome-wide RNA interference as a systematic method to define metazoan actin regulators based on visual phenotype. Using comparative screens in cultured Drosophila and human cells, we generated phenotypic profiles for annotated actin regulators together with proteins bearing predicted actin-binding domains. These phenotypic clusters for the known metazoan "actinome" were used to identify putative new core actin regulators, together with a number of genes with conserved but poorly studied roles in the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton, several of which we studied in detail. This work suggests that although our search for new components of the core actin machinery is nearing saturation, regulation at the level of nuclear actin export, RNA splicing, ubiquitination, and other upstream processes remains an important but unexplored frontier of actin biology.
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.
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.
Genome-wide, cell-based screens using high-content screening (HCS) techniques and automated fluorescence microscopy generate thousands of high-content images that contain an enormous wealth of cell biological information. Such screens are key to the analysis of basic cell biological principles, such as control of cell cycle and cell morphology. However, these screens will ultimately only shed light on human disease mechanisms and potential cures if the analysis can keep up with the generation of data. A fundamental step toward automated analysis of high-content screening is to construct a robust platform for automatic cellular phenotype identification. The authors present a framework, consisting of microscopic image segmentation and analysis components, for automatic recognition of cellular phenotypes in the context of the Rho family of small GTPases. To implicate genes involved in Rac signaling, RNA interference (RNAi) was used to perturb gene functions, and the corresponding cellular phenotypes were analyzed for changes. The data used in the experiments are high-content, 3-channel, fluorescence microscopy images of Drosophila Kc167 cultured cells stained with markers that allow visualization of DNA, polymerized actin filaments, and the constitutively activated Rho protein Rac(V12). The performance of this approach was tested using a cellular database that contained more than 1000 samples of 3 predefined cellular phenotypes, and the generalization error was estimated using a cross-validation technique. Moreover, the authors applied this approach to analyze the whole high-content fluorescence images of Drosophila cells for further HCS-based gene function analysis.
Multiple centrosomes in tumor cells create the potential for multipolar divisions that can lead to aneuploidy and cell death. Nevertheless, many cancer cells successfully divide because of mechanisms that suppress multipolar mitoses. A genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila S2 cells and a secondary analysis in cancer cells defined mechanisms that suppress multipolar mitoses. In addition to proteins that organize microtubules at the spindle poles, we identified novel roles for the spindle assembly checkpoint, cortical actin cytoskeleton, and cell adhesion. Using live cell imaging and fibronectin micropatterns, we found that interphase cell shape and adhesion pattern can determine the success of the subsequent mitosis in cells with extra centrosomes. These findings may identify cancer-selective therapeutic targets: HSET, a normally nonessential kinesin motor, was essential for the viability of certain extra centrosome-containing cancer cells. Thus, morphological features of cancer cells can be linked to unique genetic requirements for survival.