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.
A major objective of systems biology is to organize molecular interactions as networks and to characterize information flow within networks. We describe a computational framework to integrate protein-protein interaction (PPI) networks and genetic screens to predict the 'signs' of interactions (i.e., activation-inhibition relationships). We constructed a Drosophila melanogaster signed PPI network consisting of 6,125 signed PPIs connecting 3,352 proteins that can be used to identify positive and negative regulators of signaling pathways and protein complexes. We identified an unexpected role for the metabolic enzymes enolase and aldo-keto reductase as positive and negative regulators of proteolysis, respectively. Characterization of the activation-inhibition relationships between physically interacting proteins within signaling pathways will affect our understanding of many biological functions, including signal transduction and mechanisms of disease.
Recent studies by our group and others demonstrated a required and conserved role of Stim in store-operated Ca(2+) influx and Ca(2+) release-activated Ca(2+) (CRAC) channel activity. By using an unbiased genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila S2 cells, we now identify 75 hits that strongly inhibited Ca(2+) influx upon store emptying by thapsigargin. Among these hits are 11 predicted transmembrane proteins, including Stim, and one, olf186-F, that upon RNA interference-mediated knockdown exhibited a profound reduction of thapsigargin-evoked Ca(2+) entry and CRAC current, and upon overexpression a 3-fold augmentation of CRAC current. CRAC currents were further increased to 8-fold higher than control and developed more rapidly when olf186-F was cotransfected with Stim. olf186-F is a member of a highly conserved family of four-transmembrane spanning proteins with homologs from Caenorhabditis elegans to human. The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) Ca(2+) pump sarco-/ER calcium ATPase (SERCA) and the single transmembrane-soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive (NSF) attachment receptor (SNARE) protein Syntaxin5 also were required for CRAC channel activity, consistent with a signaling pathway in which Stim senses Ca(2+) depletion within the ER, translocates to the plasma membrane, and interacts with olf186-F to trigger CRAC channel activity.
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.
Characterizing the extent and logic of signaling networks is essential to understanding specificity in such physiological and pathophysiological contexts as cell fate decisions and mechanisms of oncogenesis and resistance to chemotherapy. Cell-based RNA interference (RNAi) screens enable the inference of large numbers of genes that regulate signaling pathways, but these screens cannot provide network structure directly. We describe an integrated network around the canonical receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK)-Ras-extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling pathway, generated by combining parallel genome-wide RNAi screens with protein-protein interaction (PPI) mapping by tandem affinity purification-mass spectrometry. We found that only a small fraction of the total number of PPI or RNAi screen hits was isolated under all conditions tested and that most of these represented the known canonical pathway components, suggesting that much of the core canonical ERK pathway is known. Because most of the newly identified regulators are likely cell type- and RTK-specific, our analysis provides a resource for understanding how output through this clinically relevant pathway is regulated in different contexts. We report in vivo roles for several of the previously unknown regulators, including CG10289 and PpV, the Drosophila orthologs of two components of the serine/threonine-protein phosphatase 6 complex; the Drosophila ortholog of TepIV, a glycophosphatidylinositol-linked protein mutated in human cancers; CG6453, a noncatalytic subunit of glucosidase II; and Rtf1, a histone methyltransferase.
Certain pathogens, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, survive within the hostile intracellular environment of a macrophage. To identify host factors required for mycobacterial entry and survival within macrophages, we performed a genomewide RNA interference screen in Drosophila macrophage-like cells, using Mycobacterium fortuitum. We identified factors required for general phagocytosis, as well as those needed specifically for mycobacterial infection. One specific factor, Peste (Pes), is a CD36 family member required for uptake of mycobacteria, but not Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus aureus. Moreover, mammalian class B scavenger receptors (SRs) conferred uptake of bacteria into nonphagocytic cells, with SR-BI and SR-BII uniquely mediating uptake of M. fortuitum, which suggests a conserved role for class B SRs in pattern recognition and innate immunity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) are a natural by-product of cellular growth and proliferation, and are required for fundamental processes such as protein-folding and signal transduction. However, ROS accumulation, and the onset of oxidative stress, can negatively impact cellular and genomic integrity. Signalling networks have evolved to respond to oxidative stress by engaging diverse enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidant mechanisms to restore redox homeostasis. The architecture of oxidative stress response networks during periods of normal growth, and how increased ROS levels dynamically reconfigure these networks are largely unknown. In order to gain insight into the structure of signalling networks that promote redox homeostasis we first performed genome-scale RNAi screens to identify novel suppressors of superoxide accumulation. We then infer relationships between redox regulators by hierarchical clustering of phenotypic signatures describing how gene inhibition affects superoxide levels, cellular viability, and morphology across different genetic backgrounds. Genes that cluster together are likely to act in the same signalling pathway/complex and thus make "functional interactions". Moreover we also calculate differential phenotypic signatures describing the difference in cellular phenotypes following RNAi between untreated cells and cells submitted to oxidative stress. Using both phenotypic signatures and differential signatures we construct a network model of functional interactions that occur between components of the redox homeostasis network, and how such interactions become rewired in the presence of oxidative stress. This network model predicts a functional interaction between the transcription factor Jun and the IRE1 kinase, which we validate in an orthogonal assay. We thus demonstrate the ability of systems-biology approaches to identify novel signalling events.
Members of the Hedgehog (Hh) family of signaling proteins are powerful regulators of developmental processes in many organisms and have been implicated in many human disease states. Here we report the results of a genome-wide RNA interference screen in Drosophila melanogaster cells for new components of the Hh signaling pathway. The screen identified hundreds of potential new regulators of Hh signaling, including many large protein complexes with pleiotropic effects, such as the coat protein complex I (COPI) complex, the ribosome and the proteasome. We identified the multimeric protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) and two new kinases, the D. melanogaster orthologs of the vertebrate PITSLRE and cyclin-dependent kinase-9 (CDK9) kinases, as Hh regulators. We also identified a large group of constitutive and alternative splicing factors, two nucleoporins involved in mRNA export and several RNA-regulatory proteins as potent regulators of Hh signal transduction, indicating that splicing regulation and mRNA transport have a previously unrecognized role in Hh signaling. Finally, we showed that several of these genes have conserved roles in mammalian Hh signaling.
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: 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.
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.