A wide variety of RNAs encode small open-reading-frame (smORF/sORF) peptides, but their functions are largely unknown. Here, we show that Drosophila polished-rice (pri) sORF peptides trigger proteasome-mediated protein processing, converting the Shavenbaby (Svb) transcription repressor into a shorter activator. A genome-wide RNA interference screen identifies an E2-E3 ubiquitin-conjugating complex, UbcD6-Ubr3, which targets Svb to the proteasome in a pri-dependent manner. Upon interaction with Ubr3, Pri peptides promote the binding of Ubr3 to Svb. Ubr3 can then ubiquitinate the Svb N terminus, which is degraded by the proteasome. The C-terminal domains protect Svb from complete degradation and ensure appropriate processing. Our data show that Pri peptides control selectivity of Ubr3 binding, which suggests that the family of sORF peptides may contain an extended repertoire of protein regulators.
The transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) family of cytokines figures prominently in regulation of embryonic development and adult tissue homeostasis from Drosophila to mammals. Genetic defects affecting TGF-β signaling underlie developmental disorders and diseases such as cancer in human. Therefore, delineating the molecular mechanism by which TGF-β regulates cell biology is critical for understanding normal biology and disease mechanisms. Forward genetic screens in model organisms and biochemical approaches in mammalian tissue culture were instrumental in initial characterization of the TGF-β signal transduction pathway. With complete sequence information of the genomes and the advent of RNA interference (RNAi) technology, genome-wide RNAi screening emerged as a powerful functional genomics approach to systematically delineate molecular components of signal transduction pathways. Here, we describe a protocol for image-based whole-genome RNAi screening aimed at identifying molecules required for TGF-β signaling into the nucleus. Using this protocol we examined >90 % of annotated Drosophila open reading frames (ORF) individually and successfully uncovered several novel factors serving critical roles in the TGF-β pathway. Thus cell-based high-throughput functional genomics can uncover new mechanistic insights on signaling pathways beyond what the classical genetics had revealed.