MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of short noncoding RNAs that regulate protein-coding genes posttranscriptionally. In animals, most known miRNA targeting occurs within the 3'UTR of mRNAs, but the extent of biologically relevant targeting in the ORF or 5'UTR of mRNAs remains unknown. Here, we develop an algorithm (MinoTar-miRNA ORF Targets) to identify conserved regulatory motifs within protein-coding regions and use it to estimate the number of preferentially conserved miRNA-target sites in ORFs. We show that, in Drosophila, preferentially conserved miRNA targeting in ORFs is as widespread as it is in 3'UTRs and that, while far less abundant, conserved targets in Drosophila 5'UTRs number in the hundreds. Using our algorithm, we predicted a set of high-confidence ORF targets and selected seven miRNA-target pairs from among these for experimental validation. We observed down-regulation by the miRNA in five out of seven cases, indicating our approach can recover functional sites with high confidence. Additionally, we observed additive targeting by multiple sites within a single ORF. Altogether, our results demonstrate that the scale of biologically important miRNA targeting in ORFs is extensive and that computational tools such as ours can aid in the identification of such targets. Further evidence suggests that our results extend to mammals, but that the extent of ORF and 5'UTR targeting relative to 3'UTR targeting may be greater in Drosophila.
The specificity of RNAi pathways is determined by several classes of small RNAs, which include siRNAs, piRNAs, endo-siRNAs, and microRNAs (miRNAs). These small RNAs are invariably incorporated into large Argonaute (Ago)-containing effector complexes known as RNA-induced silencing complexes (RISCs), which they guide to silencing targets. Both genetic and biochemical strategies have yielded conserved molecular components of small RNA biogenesis and effector machineries. However, given the complexity of these pathways, there are likely to be additional components and regulators that remain to be uncovered. We have undertaken a comparative and comprehensive RNAi screen to identify genes that impact three major Ago-dependent small RNA pathways that operate in Drosophila S2 cells. We identify subsets of candidates that act positively or negatively in siRNA, endo-siRNA, and miRNA pathways. Our studies indicate that many components are shared among all three Argonaute-dependent silencing pathways, though each is also impacted by discrete sets of genes.
Defects in miRNA biogenesis or activity are associated to development abnormalities and diseases. In Drosophila, miRNAs are predominantly loaded in Argonaute-1, which they guide for silencing of target RNAs. The miRNA pathway overlaps the RNAi pathway in this organism, as miRNAs may also associate with Argonaute-2, the mediator of RNAi. We set up a gene construct in which a single inducible promoter directs the expression of the GFP protein as well as two miRNAs perfectly matching the GFP sequences. We show that self-silencing of the resulting automiG gene requires Drosha, Pasha, Dicer-1, Dicer-2 and Argonaute-2 loaded with the anti-GFP miRNAs. In contrast, self-silencing of the automiG gene does not involve Argonaute-1. Thus, automiG reports in vivo for both miRNA biogenesis and Ago-2 mediated silencing, providing a powerful biosensor to identify situations where miRNA or siRNA pathways are impaired. As a proof of concept, we used automiG as a biosensor to screen a chemical library and identified 29 molecules that strongly inhibit miRNA silencing, out of which 5 also inhibit RNAi triggered by long double-stranded RNA. Finally, the automiG sensor is also self-silenced by the anti-GFP miRNAs in HeLa cells and might be easily used to identify factors involved in miRNA biogenesis and silencing guided by perfect target complementarity in mammals.
Hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) are a family of evolutionary conserved alpha-beta heterodimeric transcription factors that induce a wide range of genes in response to low oxygen tension. Molecular mechanisms that mediate oxygen-dependent HIF regulation operate at the level of the alpha subunit, controlling protein stability, subcellular localization, and transcriptional coactivator recruitment. We have conducted an unbiased genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screen in Drosophila cells aimed to the identification of genes required for HIF activity. After 3 rounds of selection, 30 genes emerged as critical HIF regulators in hypoxia, most of which had not been previously associated with HIF biology. The list of genes includes components of chromatin remodeling complexes, transcription elongation factors, and translational regulators. One remarkable hit was the argonaute 1 (ago1) gene, a central element of the microRNA (miRNA) translational silencing machinery. Further studies confirmed the physiological role of the miRNA machinery in HIF-dependent transcription. This study reveals the occurrence of novel mechanisms of HIF regulation, which might contribute to developing novel strategies for therapeutic intervention of HIF-related pathologies, including heart attack, cancer, and stroke.
Gene silencing through sequence-specific targeting of mRNAs by RNAi has enabled genome-wide functional screens in cultured cells and in vivo in model organisms. These screens have resulted in the identification of new cellular pathways and potential drug targets. Considerable progress has been made to improve the quality of RNAi screen data through the development of new experimental and bioinformatics approaches. The recent availability of genome-editing strategies, such as the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-Cas9 system, when combined with RNAi, could lead to further improvements in screen data quality and follow-up experiments, thus promoting our understanding of gene function and gene regulatory networks.