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.
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.
Chlamydia spp. are intracellular obligate bacterial pathogens that infect a wide range of host cells. Here, we show that C. caviae enters, replicates, and performs a complete developmental cycle in Drosophila SL2 cells. Using this model system, we have performed a genome-wide RNA interference screen and identified 54 factors that, when depleted, inhibit C. caviae infection. By testing the effect of each candidate's knock down on L. monocytogenes infection, we have identified 31 candidates presumably specific of C. caviae infection. We found factors expected to have an effect on Chlamydia infection, such as heparansulfate glycosaminoglycans and actin and microtubule remodeling factors. We also identified factors that were not previously described as involved in Chlamydia infection. For instance, we identified members of the Tim-Tom complex, a multiprotein complex involved in the recognition and import of nuclear-encoded proteins to the mitochondria, as required for C. caviae infection of Drosophila cells. Finally, we confirmed that depletion of either Tom40 or Tom22 also reduced C. caviae infection in mammalian cells. However, C. trachomatis infection was not affected, suggesting that the mechanism involved is C. caviae specific.
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.