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.
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.
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.
To facilitate the genetic analysis of muscle assembly and maintenance, we have developed a method for efficient RNA interference (RNAi) in Drosophila primary cells using double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). First, using molecular markers, we confirm and extend the observation that myogenesis in primary cultures derived from Drosophila embryonic cells follows the same developmental course as that seen in vivo. Second, we apply this approach to analyze 28 Drosophila homologs of human muscle disease genes and find that 19 of them, when disrupted, lead to abnormal muscle phenotypes in primary culture. Third, from an RNAi screen of 1140 genes chosen at random, we identify 49 involved in late muscle differentiation. We validate our approach with the in vivo analyses of three genes. We find that Fermitin 1 and Fermitin 2, which are involved in integrin-containing adhesion structures, act in a partially redundant manner to maintain muscle integrity. In addition, we characterize CG2165, which encodes a plasma membrane Ca2+-ATPase, and show that it plays an important role in maintaining muscle integrity. Finally, we discuss how Drosophila primary cells can be manipulated to develop cell-based assays to model human diseases for RNAi and small-molecule screens.
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.
Lipid droplets are ubiquitous triglyceride and sterol ester storage organelles required for energy storage homeostasis and biosynthesis. Although little is known about lipid droplet formation and regulation, it is clear that members of the PAT (perilipin, adipocyte differentiation related protein, tail interacting protein of 47 kDa) protein family coat the droplet surface and mediate interactions with lipases that remobilize the stored lipids. We identified key Drosophila candidate genes for lipid droplet regulation by RNA interference (RNAi) screening with an image segmentation-based optical read-out system, and show that these regulatory functions are conserved in the mouse. Those include the vesicle-mediated Coat Protein Complex I (COPI) transport complex, which is required for limiting lipid storage. We found that COPI components regulate the PAT protein composition at the lipid droplet surface, and promote the association of adipocyte triglyceride lipase (ATGL) with the lipid droplet surface to mediate lipolysis. Two compounds known to inhibit COPI function, Exo1 and Brefeldin A, phenocopy COPI knockdowns. Furthermore, RNAi inhibition of ATGL and simultaneous drug treatment indicate that COPI and ATGL function in the same pathway. These data indicate that the COPI complex is an evolutionarily conserved regulator of lipid homeostasis, and highlight an interaction between vesicle transport systems and lipid droplets.