Our understanding of the genetic mechanisms that underlie biological processes has relied extensively on loss-of-function (LOF) analyses. LOF methods target DNA, RNA or protein to reduce or to ablate gene function. By analysing the phenotypes that are caused by these perturbations the wild-type function of genes can be elucidated. Although all LOF methods reduce gene activity, the choice of approach (for example, mutagenesis, CRISPR-based gene editing, RNA interference, morpholinos or pharmacological inhibition) can have a major effect on phenotypic outcomes. Interpretation of the LOF phenotype must take into account the biological process that is targeted by each method. The practicality and efficiency of LOF methods also vary considerably between model systems. We describe parameters for choosing the optimal combination of method and system, and for interpreting phenotypes within the constraints of each method.
Our ability to modify the Drosophila genome has recently been revolutionized by the development of the CRISPR system. The simplicity and high efficiency of this system allows its widespread use for many different applications, greatly increasing the range of genome modification experiments that can be performed. Here, we first discuss some general design principles for genome engineering experiments in Drosophila and then present detailed protocols for the production of CRISPR reagents and screening strategies to detect successful genome modification events in both tissue culture cells and animals.
FlyRNAi (http://www.flyrnai.org), the database and website of the Drosophila RNAi Screening Center (DRSC) at Harvard Medical School, serves a dual role, tracking both production of reagents for RNA interference (RNAi) screening in Drosophila cells and RNAi screen results. The database and website is used as a platform for community availability of protocols, tools, and other resources useful to researchers planning, conducting, analyzing or interpreting the results of Drosophila RNAi screens. Based on our own experience and user feedback, we have made several changes. Specifically, we have restructured the database to accommodate new types of reagents; added information about new RNAi libraries and other reagents; updated the user interface and website; and added new tools of use to the Drosophila community and others. Overall, the result is a more useful, flexible and comprehensive website and database.
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.
RNA binding proteins (RBPs) are involved in many cellular functions. To facilitate functional characterization of RBPs, we generated an RNA interference (RNAi) library for Drosophila cell-based screens comprising reagents targeting known or putative RBPs. To test the quality of the library and provide a baseline analysis of the effects of the RNAi reagents on viability, we screened the library using a total ATP assay and high-throughput imaging in Drosophila S2R+ cultured cells. The results are consistent with production of a high-quality library that will be useful for functional genomics studies using other assays. Altogether, we provide resources in the form of an initial curated list of Drosophila RBPs; an RNAi screening library we expect to be used with additional assays that address more specific biological questions; and total ATP and image data useful for comparison of those additional assay results with fundamental information such as effects of a given reagent in the library on cell viability. Importantly, we make the baseline data, including more than 200,000 images, easily accessible online.
The conditional expression of hairpin constructs in Drosophila melanogaster has emerged in recent years as a method of choice in functional genomic studies. To date, upstream activating site-driven RNA interference constructs have been inserted into the genome randomly using P-element-mediated transformation, which can result in false negatives due to variable expression. To avoid this problem, we have developed a transgenic RNA interference vector based on the phiC31 site-specific integration method.
In a developing Drosophila melanogaster embryo, mRNAs have a maternal origin, a zygotic origin, or both. During the maternal-zygotic transition, maternal products are degraded and gene expression comes under the control of the zygotic genome. To interrogate the function of mRNAs that are both maternally and zygotically expressed, it is common to examine the embryonic phenotypes derived from female germline mosaics. Recently, the development of RNAi vectors based on short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) effective during oogenesis has provided an alternative to producing germline clones. Here, we evaluate the efficacies of: (1) maternally loaded shRNAs to knockdown zygotic transcripts and (2) maternally loaded Gal4 protein to drive zygotic shRNA expression. We show that, while Gal4-driven shRNAs in the female germline very effectively generate phenotypes for genes expressed maternally, maternally loaded shRNAs are not very effective at generating phenotypes for early zygotic genes. However, maternally loaded Gal4 protein is very efficient at generating phenotypes for zygotic genes expressed during mid-embryogenesis. We apply this powerful and simple method to unravel the embryonic functions of a number of pleiotropic genes.
This chapter describes the method used to conduct high-throughput screening (HTs) by RNA interference in Drosophila tissue culture cells. It covers four main topics: (1) a brief description of the existing platforms to conduct RNAi-screens in cell-based assays; (2) a table of the Drosophila cell lines available for these screens and a brief mention of the need to establish other cell lines as well as cultures of primary cells; (3) a discussion of the considerations and protocols involved in establishing assays suitable for HTS in a 384-well format; and (A) a summary of the various ways of handling raw data from an ongoing screen, with special emphasis on how to apply normalization for experimental variation and statistical filters to sort out noise from signals.
While the 26S proteasome is a key proteolytic complex, little is known about how proteasome levels are maintained in higher eukaryotic cells. Here we describe an RNA interference (RNAi) screen of Drosophila melanogaster that was used to identify transcription factors that may play a role in maintaining levels of the 26S proteasome. We used an RNAi library against 993 Drosophila transcription factor genes to identify genes whose suppression in Schneider 2 cells stabilized a ubiquitin-green fluorescent protein reporter protein. This screen identified Cnc (cap 'n' collar [CNC]; basic region leucine zipper) as a candidate transcriptional regulator of proteasome component expression. In fact, 20S proteasome activity was reduced in cells depleted of cnc. Immunoblot assays against proteasome components revealed a general decline in both 19S regulatory complex and 20S proteasome subunits after RNAi depletion of this transcription factor. Transcript-specific silencing revealed that the longest of the seven transcripts for the cnc gene, cnc-C, was needed for proteasome and p97 ATPase production. Quantitative reverse transcription-PCR confirmed the role of Cnc-C in activation of transcription of genes encoding proteasome components. Expression of a V5-His-tagged form of Cnc-C revealed that the transcription factor is itself a proteasome substrate that is stabilized when the proteasome is inhibited. We propose that this single cnc gene in Drosophila resembles the ancestral gene family of mammalian nuclear factor erythroid-derived 2-related transcription factors, which are essential in regulating oxidative stress and proteolysis.
Multiple centrosomes in tumor cells create the potential for multipolar divisions that can lead to aneuploidy and cell death. Nevertheless, many cancer cells successfully divide because of mechanisms that suppress multipolar mitoses. A genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila S2 cells and a secondary analysis in cancer cells defined mechanisms that suppress multipolar mitoses. In addition to proteins that organize microtubules at the spindle poles, we identified novel roles for the spindle assembly checkpoint, cortical actin cytoskeleton, and cell adhesion. Using live cell imaging and fibronectin micropatterns, we found that interphase cell shape and adhesion pattern can determine the success of the subsequent mitosis in cells with extra centrosomes. These findings may identify cancer-selective therapeutic targets: HSET, a normally nonessential kinesin motor, was essential for the viability of certain extra centrosome-containing cancer cells. Thus, morphological features of cancer cells can be linked to unique genetic requirements for survival.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a widely adopted tool for loss-of-function studies but RNAi results only have biological relevance if the reagents are appropriately mapped to genes. Several groups have designed and generated RNAi reagent libraries for studies in cells or in vivo for Drosophila and other species. At first glance, matching RNAi reagents to genes appears to be a simple problem, as each reagent is typically designed to target a single gene. In practice, however, the reagent-gene relationship is complex. Although the sequences of oligonucleotides used to generate most types of RNAi reagents are static, the reference genome and gene annotations are regularly updated. Thus, at the time a researcher chooses an RNAi reagent or analyzes RNAi data, the most current interpretation of the RNAi reagent-gene relationship, as well as related information regarding specificity (e.g., predicted off-target effects), can be different from the original interpretation. Here, we describe a set of strategies and an accompanying online tool, UP-TORR (for Updated Targets of RNAi Reagents; www.flyrnai.org/up-torr), useful for accurate and up-to-date annotation of cell-based and in vivo RNAi reagents. Importantly, UP-TORR automatically synchronizes with gene annotations daily, retrieving the most current information available, and for Drosophila, also synchronizes with the major reagent collections. Thus, UP-TORR allows users to choose the most appropriate RNAi reagents at the onset of a study, as well as to perform the most appropriate analyses of results of RNAi-based studies.