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1.  Clustering phenotype populations by genome-wide RNAi and multiparametric imaging 
How to predict gene function from phenotypic cues is a longstanding question in biology.Using quantitative multiparametric imaging, RNAi-mediated cell phenotypes were measured on a genome-wide scale.On the basis of phenotypic ‘neighbourhoods', we identified previously uncharacterized human genes as mediators of the DNA damage response pathway and the maintenance of genomic integrity.The phenotypic map is provided as an online resource at for discovering further functional relationships for a broad spectrum of biological module
Genetic screens for phenotypic similarity have made key contributions for associating genes with biological processes. Aggregating genes by similarity of their loss-of-function phenotype has provided insights into signalling pathways that have a conserved function from Drosophila to human (Nusslein-Volhard and Wieschaus, 1980; Bier, 2005). Complex visual phenotypes, such as defects in pattern formation during development, greatly facilitated the classification of genes into pathways, and phenotypic similarities in many cases predicted molecular relationships. With RNA interference (RNAi), highly parallel phenotyping of loss-of-function effects in cultured cells has become feasible in many organisms whose genome have been sequenced (Boutros and Ahringer, 2008). One of the current challenges is the computational categorization of visual phenotypes and the prediction of gene function and associated biological processes. With large parts of the genome still being in unchartered territory, deriving functional information from large-scale phenotype analysis promises to uncover novel gene–gene relationships and to generate functional maps to explore cellular processes.
In this study, we developed an automated approach using RNAi-mediated cell phenotypes, multiparametric imaging and computational modelling to obtain functional information on previously uncharacterized genes. To generate broad, computer-readable phenotypic signatures, we measured the effect of RNAi-mediated knockdowns on changes of cell morphology in human cells on a genome-wide scale. First, the several million cells were stained for nuclear and cytoskeletal markers and then imaged using automated microscopy. On the basis of fluorescent markers, we established an automated image analysis to classify individual cells (Figure 1A). After cell segmentation for determining nuclei and cell boundaries (Figure 1C), we computed 51 cell descriptors that quantified intensities, shape characteristics and texture (Figure 1F). Individual cells were categorized into 1 of 10 classes, which included cells showing protrusion/elongation, cells in metaphase, large cells, condensed cells, cells with lamellipodia and cellular debris (Figure 1D and E). Each siRNA knockdown was summarized by a phenotypic profile and differences between RNAi knockdowns were quantified by the similarity between phenotypic profiles. We termed the vector of scores a phenoprint (Figure 3C) and defined the phenotypic distance between a pair of perturbations as the distance between their corresponding phenoprints.
To visualize the distribution of all phenoprints, we plotted them in a genome-wide map as a two-dimensional representation of the phenotypic similarity relationships (Figure 3A). The complete data set and an interactive version of the phenotypic map are available at The map identified phenotypic ‘neighbourhoods', which are characterized by cells with lamellipodia (WNK3, ANXA4), cells with prominent actin fibres (ODF2, SOD3), abundance of large cells (CA14), many elongated cells (SH2B2, ELMO2), decrease in cell number (TPX2, COPB1, COPA), increase in number of cells in metaphase (BLR1, CIB2) and combinations of phenotypes such as presence of large cells with protrusions and bright nuclei (PTPRZ1, RRM1; Figure 3B).
To test whether phenotypic similarity might serve as a predictor of gene function, we focused our further analysis on two clusters that contained genes associated with the DNA damage response (DDR) and genomic integrity (Figure 3A and C). The first phenotypic cluster included proteins with kinetochore-associated functions such as NUF2 (Figure 3B) and SGOL1. It also contained the centrosomal protein CEP164 that has been described as an important mediator of the DNA damage-activated signalling cascade (Sivasubramaniam et al, 2008) and the largely uncharacterized genes DONSON and SON. A second phenotypically distinct cluster included previously described components of the DDR pathway such as RRM1 (Figure 3A–C), CLSPN, PRIM2 and SETD8. Furthermore, this cluster contained the poorly characterized genes CADM1 and CD3EAP.
Cells activate a signalling cascade in response to DNA damage induced by exogenous and endogenous factors. Central are the kinases ATM and ATR as they serve as sensors of DNA damage and activators of further downstream kinases (Harper and Elledge, 2007; Cimprich and Cortez, 2008). To investigate whether DONSON, SON, CADM1 and CD3EAP, which were found in phenotypic ‘neighbourhoods' to known DDR components, have a role in the DNA damage signalling pathway, we tested the effect of their depletion on the DDR on γ irradiation. As indicated by reduced CHEK1 phosphorylation, siRNA knock down of DONSON, SON, CD3EAP or CADM1 resulted in impaired DDR signalling on γ irradiation. Furthermore, knock down of DONSON or SON reduced phosphorylation of downstream effectors such as NBS1, CHEK1 and the histone variant H2AX on UVC irradiation. DONSON depletion also impaired recruitment of RPA2 onto chromatin and SON knockdown reduced RPA2 phosphorylation indicating that DONSON and SON presumably act downstream of the activation of ATM. In agreement to their phenotypic profile, these results suggest that DONSON, SON, CADM1 and CD3EAP are important mediators of the DDR. Further experiments demonstrated that they are also required for the maintenance of genomic integrity.
In summary, we show that genes with similar phenotypic profiles tend to share similar functions. The power of our computational and experimental approach is demonstrated by the identification of novel signalling regulators whose phenotypic profiles were found in proximity to known biological modules. Therefore, we believe that such phenotypic maps can serve as a resource for functional discovery and characterization of unknown genes. Furthermore, such approaches are also applicable for other perturbation reagents, such as small molecules in drug discovery and development. One could also envision combined maps that contain both siRNAs and small molecules to predict target–small molecule relationships and potential side effects.
Genetic screens for phenotypic similarity have made key contributions to associating genes with biological processes. With RNA interference (RNAi), highly parallel phenotyping of loss-of-function effects in cells has become feasible. One of the current challenges however is the computational categorization of visual phenotypes and the prediction of biological function and processes. In this study, we describe a combined computational and experimental approach to discover novel gene functions and explore functional relationships. We performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in human cells and used quantitative descriptors derived from high-throughput imaging to generate multiparametric phenotypic profiles. We show that profiles predicted functions of genes by phenotypic similarity. Specifically, we examined several candidates including the largely uncharacterized gene DONSON, which shared phenotype similarity with known factors of DNA damage response (DDR) and genomic integrity. Experimental evidence supports that DONSON is a novel centrosomal protein required for DDR signalling and genomic integrity. Multiparametric phenotyping by automated imaging and computational annotation is a powerful method for functional discovery and mapping the landscape of phenotypic responses to cellular perturbations.
PMCID: PMC2913390  PMID: 20531400
DNA damage response signalling; massively parallel phenotyping; phenotype networks; RNAi screening
2.  Phenotypic Screen of Early-Developing Larvae of the Blood Fluke, Schistosoma mansoni, using RNA Interference 
RNA interference (RNAi) represents the only method currently available for manipulating gene-specific expression in Schistosoma spp., although application of this technology as a functional genomic profiling tool has yet to be explored. In the present study 32 genes, including antioxidants, transcription factors, cell signaling molecules and metabolic enzymes, were selected to determine if gene knockdown by RNAi was associated with morphologically definable phenotypic changes in early intramolluscan larval development. Transcript selection was based on their high expression in in vitro cultured S. mansoni primary sporocysts and/or their potential involvement in developmental processes. Miracidia were allowed to transform to sporocysts in the presence of synthesized double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) and cultivated for 7 days, during which time developing larvae were closely observed for phenotypic changes including failure/delay in transformation, loss of motility, altered growth and death. Of the phenotypes evaluated, only one was consistently detected; namely a reduction in sporocyst size based on length measurements. The size-reducing phenotype was observed in 11 of the 33 (33%) dsRNA treatment groups, and of these 11 phenotype-associated genes (superoxide dismutase, Smad1, RHO2, Smad2, Cav2A, ring box, GST26, calcineurin B, Smad4, lactate dehydrogenase and EF1α), only 6 demonstrated a significant and consistent knockdown of specific transcript expression. Unexpectedly one phenotype-linked gene, superoxide dismutase (SOD), was highly induced (∼1600-fold) upon dsRNA exposure. Variation in dsRNA-mediated silencing effects also was evident in the group of sporocysts that lacked any definable phenotype. Out of 22 nonphenotype-expressing dsRNA treatments (myosin, PKCB, HEXBP, calcium channel, Sma2, RHO1, PKC receptor, DHHC, PepcK, calreticulin, calpain, Smeg, 14.3.3, K5, SPO1, SmZF1, fibrillarin, GST28, GPx, TPx1, TPx2 and TPx2/TPx1), 12 were assessed for the transcript levels. Of those, 6 genes exhibited consistent reductions in steady-state transcript levels, while expression level for the rest remained unchanged. Results demonstrate that the efficacy of dsRNA-treatment in producing consistent phenotypic changes and/or altered gene expression levels in S. mansoni sporocysts is highly dependent on the selected gene (or the specific dsRNA sequence used) and the timing of evaluation after treatment. Although RNAi holds great promise as a functional genomics tool for larval schistosomes, our finding of potential off-target or nonspecific effects of some dsRNA treatments and variable efficiencies in specific gene knockdown indicate a critical need for gene-specific testing and optimization as an essential part of experimental design, execution and data interpretation.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) represents the only method currently available for manipulating gene-specific expression in human blood flukes, Schistosoma spp., although its application as a functional genomics tool in early intramolluscan larval stages has been limited to single gene analyses. Accelerating gene discovery efforts over the past 10 years have resulted in extensive, ever-increasing databases of genomic, transcriptomic and EST sequences. Unfortunately, our understanding of the function of the vast majority of these genes has not kept pace with their discovery, and this represents a significant barrier and the next real challenge for investigators of schistosomes, and other parasitic helminths. In the present study, we selected an array of 32 genes expressed in S. mansoni sporocysts to evaluate their susceptibility to double-stranded (ds)RNA treatment and to begin characterizing morphological phenotypes associated with a potential RNAi effect. Results demonstrate that gene knockdown and/or resulting phenotypes are highly transcript-dependent (specific dsRNA sequence used) and vary with time post-dsRNA exposure. Because of this potential variability in both transcript and phenotype expression in response to dsRNA treatment, our findings illustrate that, although a RNAi-type approach holds great promise as a functional reverse-genetics tool for larval schistosomes, its application requires caution in the design and execution of experiments and interpretation of results.
PMCID: PMC2719580  PMID: 19668375
3.  Comparative Genomics Reveals Two Novel RNAi Factors in Trypanosoma brucei and Provides Insight into the Core Machinery 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(5):e1002678.
The introduction ten years ago of RNA interference (RNAi) as a tool for molecular exploration in Trypanosoma brucei has led to a surge in our understanding of the pathogenesis and biology of this human parasite. In particular, a genome-wide RNAi screen has recently been combined with next-generation Illumina sequencing to expose catalogues of genes associated with loss of fitness in distinct developmental stages. At present, this technology is restricted to RNAi-positive protozoan parasites, which excludes T. cruzi, Leishmania major, and Plasmodium falciparum. Therefore, elucidating the mechanism of RNAi and identifying the essential components of the pathway is fundamental for improving RNAi efficiency in T. brucei and for transferring the RNAi tool to RNAi-deficient pathogens. Here we used comparative genomics of RNAi-positive and -negative trypanosomatid protozoans to identify the repertoire of factors in T. brucei. In addition to the previously characterized Argonaute 1 (AGO1) protein and the cytoplasmic and nuclear Dicers, TbDCL1 and TbDCL2, respectively, we identified the RNA Interference Factors 4 and 5 (TbRIF4 and TbRIF5). TbRIF4 is a 3′-5′ exonuclease of the DnaQ superfamily and plays a critical role in the conversion of duplex siRNAs to the single-stranded form, thus generating a TbAGO1-siRNA complex required for target-specific cleavage. TbRIF5 is essential for cytoplasmic RNAi and appears to act as a TbDCL1 cofactor. The availability of the core RNAi machinery in T. brucei provides a platform to gain mechanistic insights in this ancient eukaryote and to identify the minimal set of components required to reconstitute RNAi in RNAi-deficient parasites.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi), a naturally-occurring pathway whereby the presence of double-stranded RNA in a cell triggers the degradation of homologous mRNA, has been harnessed in many organisms as an invaluable molecular biology tool to interrogate gene function. Although this technology is widely used in the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei, other parasites of considerable public health significance, such as Trypanosoma cruzi, Leishmania major, and Plasmodium falciparum do not perform RNAi. Since RNAi has recently been introduced into budding yeast, this opens up the possibility that RNAi can be reconstituted in these pathogens. The key to this is getting a handle on the essential RNAi factors in T. brucei. By applying comparative genomics we identified five genes that are present in the RNAi-proficient species, but not in RNAi-deficient species: three previously identified RNAi factors, and two novel ones, which are described here. This insight into the core T. brucei RNAi machinery represents a major step towards transferring this pathway to RNAi-deficient parasites.
PMCID: PMC3359990  PMID: 22654659
4.  Identification of Drosophila Mitotic Genes by Combining Co-Expression Analysis and RNA Interference 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(7):e1000126.
RNAi screens have, to date, identified many genes required for mitotic divisions of Drosophila tissue culture cells. However, the inventory of such genes remains incomplete. We have combined the powers of bioinformatics and RNAi technology to detect novel mitotic genes. We found that Drosophila genes involved in mitosis tend to be transcriptionally co-expressed. We thus constructed a co-expression–based list of 1,000 genes that are highly enriched in mitotic functions, and we performed RNAi for each of these genes. By limiting the number of genes to be examined, we were able to perform a very detailed phenotypic analysis of RNAi cells. We examined dsRNA-treated cells for possible abnormalities in both chromosome structure and spindle organization. This analysis allowed the identification of 142 mitotic genes, which were subdivided into 18 phenoclusters. Seventy of these genes have not previously been associated with mitotic defects; 30 of them are required for spindle assembly and/or chromosome segregation, and 40 are required to prevent spontaneous chromosome breakage. We note that the latter type of genes has never been detected in previous RNAi screens in any system. Finally, we found that RNAi against genes encoding kinetochore components or highly conserved splicing factors results in identical defects in chromosome segregation, highlighting an unanticipated role of splicing factors in centromere function. These findings indicate that our co-expression–based method for the detection of mitotic functions works remarkably well. We can foresee that elaboration of co-expression lists using genes in the same phenocluster will provide many candidate genes for small-scale RNAi screens aimed at completing the inventory of mitotic proteins.
Author Summary
Mitosis is the evolutionarily conserved process that enables a dividing cell to equally partition its genetic material between the two daughter cells. The fidelity of mitotic division is crucial for normal development of multicellular organisms and to prevent cancer or birth defects. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of mitosis requires the identification of genes involved in this process. Previous studies have shown that such genes can be readily identified by RNA interference (RNAi) in Drosophila tissue culture cells. Because the inventory of mitotic genes is still incomplete, we have undertaken an RNAi screen using a novel approach. We used a co-expression–based bioinformatic procedure to select a group of 1,000 genes enriched in mitotic functions from a dataset of 13,166 Drosophila genes. This group includes roughly half of the known mitotic genes, implying that it should contain half of all mitotic genes, including those that are currently unknown. We performed RNAi against each of the 1,000 genes in the group. By limiting the number of genes to be examined, we were able to perform a very detailed phenotypic analysis of RNAi cells. This analysis allowed the identification of 70 genes whose mitotic role was previously unknown; 30 are required for proper chromosome segregation and 40 are required to maintain chromosome integrity.
PMCID: PMC2537813  PMID: 18797514
5.  Identification of Neural Outgrowth Genes using Genome-Wide RNAi 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(7):e1000111.
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.
Author Summary
Development and function of the brain requires the coordinated action of thousands of genes, and currently we understand the roles of only a small fraction of them. Recent advances in genomics, such as the sequencing of entire genomes and the discovery of RNA-interference as a means of testing the effects of gene loss, have opened up the possibility to systematically analyze the function of all known and predicted genes in an organism. Until now, this type of functional genomics approach has not been applied to the study of very complex cells, such as the brain's neurons, on a full-genome scale. In this work, we developed techniques to test all genes, one by one in a rapid manner, for their potential role in neuronal development using neurons isolated from fruit fly embryos. These results yielded a global perspective of what types of genes are necessary for brain development; importantly, they show that a large variety of genes can be studied in this way.
PMCID: PMC2435276  PMID: 18604272
6.  Systemic RNAi mediated gene silencing in the anhydrobiotic nematode Panagrolaimus superbus 
Gene silencing by RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful tool for functional genomics. Although RNAi was first described in Caenorhabditis elegans, several nematode species are unable to mount an RNAi response when exposed to exogenous double stranded RNA (dsRNA). These include the satellite model organisms Pristionchus pacificus and Oscheius tipulae. Available data also suggest that the RNAi pathway targeting exogenous dsRNA may not be fully functional in some animal parasitic nematodes. The genus Panagrolaimus contains bacterial feeding nematodes which occupy a diversity of niches ranging from polar, temperate and semi-arid soils to terrestrial mosses. Thus many Panagrolaimus species are adapted to tolerate freezing and desiccation and are excellent systems to study the molecular basis of environmental stress tolerance. We investigated whether Panagrolaimus is susceptible to RNAi to determine whether this nematode could be used in large scale RNAi studies in functional genomics.
We studied two species: Panagrolaimus sp. PS1159 and Panagrolaimus superbus. Both nematode species displayed embryonic lethal RNAi phenotypes following ingestion of Escherichia coli expressing dsRNA for the C. elegans embryonic lethal genes Ce-lmn-1 and Ce-ran-4. Embryonic lethal RNAi phenotypes were also obtained in both species upon ingestion of dsRNA for the Panagrolaimus genes ef1b and rps-2. Single nematode RT-PCR showed that a significant reduction in mRNA transcript levels occurred for the target ef1b and rps-2 genes in RNAi treated Panagrolaimus sp. 1159 nematodes. Visible RNAi phenotypes were also observed when P. superbus was exposed to dsRNA for structural genes encoding contractile proteins. All RNAi phenotypes were highly penetrant, particularly in P. superbus.
This demonstration that Panagrolaimus is amenable to RNAi by feeding will allow the development of high throughput methods of RNAi screening for P. superbus. This greatly enhances the utility of this nematode as a model system for the study of the molecular biology of anhydrobiosis and cryobiosis and as a possible satellite model nematode for comparative and functional genomics. Our data also identify another nematode infraorder which is amenable to RNAi and provide additional information on the diversity of RNAi phenotypes in nematodes.
PMCID: PMC2453295  PMID: 18565215
7.  The miR-35-41 Family of MicroRNAs Regulates RNAi Sensitivity in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002536.
RNA interference (RNAi) utilizes small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to direct silencing of specific genes through transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms. The siRNA guides can originate from exogenous (exo–RNAi) or natural endogenous (endo–RNAi) sources of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). In Caenorhabditis elegans, inactivation of genes that function in the endo–RNAi pathway can result in enhanced silencing of genes targeted by siRNAs from exogenous sources, indicating cross-regulation between the pathways. Here we show that members of another small RNA pathway, the mir-35-41 cluster of microRNAs (miRNAs) can regulate RNAi. In worms lacking miR-35-41, there is reduced expression of lin-35/Rb, the C. elegans homolog of the tumor suppressor Retinoblastoma gene, previously shown to regulate RNAi responsiveness. Genome-wide microarray analyses show that targets of endo–siRNAs are up-regulated in mir-35-41 mutants, a phenotype also displayed by lin-35/Rb mutants. Furthermore, overexpression of lin-35/Rb specifically rescues the RNAi hypersensitivity of mir-35-41 mutants. Although the mir-35-41 miRNAs appear to be exclusively expressed in germline and embryos, their effect on RNAi sensitivity is transmitted to multiple tissues and stages of development. Additionally, we demonstrate that maternal contribution of miR-35-41 or lin-35/Rb is sufficient to reduce RNAi effectiveness in progeny worms. Our results reveal that miRNAs can broadly regulate other small RNA pathways and, thus, have far reaching effects on gene expression beyond directly targeting specific mRNAs.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) has become a widely used approach for silencing genes of interest. This tool is possible because endogenous RNA silencing pathways exist broadly across organisms, including humans, worms, and plants. The general RNAi pathway utilizes small ∼21-nucleotide RNAs to target specific protein-coding genes through base-pairing interactions. Since RNAs from exogenous sources require some of the same factors as endogenous small RNAs to silence gene expression, there can be competition between the pathways. Thus, perturbations in the endogenous RNAi pathway can result in enhanced silencing efficiency by exogenous small RNAs. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) comprise another endogenous small RNA pathway, but their biogenesis and mechanism of gene silencing are distinct in many ways from RNAi pathways. Here we show that a family of miRNAs regulates the effectiveness of RNAi in Caenorhabditis elegans. Loss of mir-35-41 results in enhanced RNAi by exogenous RNAs and reduced silencing of endogenous RNAi targets. The embryonic miR-35-41 miRNAs regulate the sensitivity to RNAi through lin-35/Rb, a homolog of the human Retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene previously shown to regulate RNAi effectiveness in C. elegans. Additionally, we show that this sensitivity can be passed on to the next generation of worms, demonstrating a far-reaching effect of the miR-35-41 miRNAs on gene regulation by other small RNA pathways.
PMCID: PMC3297572  PMID: 22412382
8.  RNA Interference in Schistosoma mansoni Schistosomula: Selectivity, Sensitivity and Operation for Larger-Scale Screening 
The possible emergence of resistance to the only available drug for schistosomiasis spurs drug discovery that has been recently incentivized by the availability of improved transcriptome and genome sequence information. Transient RNAi has emerged as a straightforward and important technique to interrogate that information through decreased or loss of gene function and identify potential drug targets. To date, RNAi studies in schistosome stages infecting humans have focused on single (or up to 3) genes of interest. Therefore, in the context of standardizing larger RNAi screens, data are limited on the extent of possible off-targeting effects, gene-to-gene variability in RNAi efficiency and the operational capabilities and limits of RNAi.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We investigated in vitro the sensitivity and selectivity of RNAi using double-stranded (ds)RNA (approximately 500 bp) designed to target 11 Schistosoma mansoni genes that are expressed in different tissues; the gut, tegument and otherwise. Among the genes investigated were 5 that had been previously predicted to be essential for parasite survival. We employed mechanically transformed schistosomula that are relevant to parasitism in humans, amenable to screen automation and easier to obtain in greater numbers than adult parasites. The operational parameters investigated included defined culture media for optimal parasite maintenance, transfection strategy, time- and dose- dependency of RNAi, and dosing limits. Of 7 defined culture media tested, Basch Medium 169 was optimal for parasite maintenance. RNAi was best achieved by co-incubating parasites and dsRNA (standardized to 30 µg/ml for 6 days); electroporation provided no added benefit. RNAi, including interference of more than one transcript, was selective to the gene target(s) within the pools of transcripts representative of each tissue. Concentrations of dsRNA above 90 µg/ml were directly toxic. RNAi efficiency was transcript-dependent (from 40 to >75% knockdown relative to controls) and this may have contributed to the lack of obvious phenotypes observed, even after prolonged incubations of 3 weeks. Within minutes of their mechanical preparation from cercariae, schistosomula accumulated fluorescent macromolecules in the gut indicating that the gut is an important route through which RNAi is expedited in the developing parasite.
Transient RNAi operates gene-selectively in S. mansoni newly transformed schistosomula yet the sensitivity of individual gene targets varies. These findings and the operational parameters defined will facilitate larger RNAi screens.
Author Summary
RNA interference (RNAi) is a technique to selectively suppress mRNA of individual genes and, consequently, their cognate proteins. RNAi using double-stranded (ds) RNA has been used to interrogate the function of mainly single genes in the flatworm, Schistosoma mansoni, one of a number of schistosome species causing schistosomiasis. In consideration of large-scale screens to identify candidate drug targets, we examined the selectivity and sensitivity (the degree of suppression) of RNAi for 11 genes produced in different tissues of the parasite: the gut, tegument (surface) and otherwise. We used the schistosomulum stage prepared from infective cercariae larvae which are accessible in large numbers and adaptable to automated screening platforms. We found that RNAi suppresses transcripts selectively, however, the sensitivity of suppression varies (40%–>75%). No obvious changes in the parasite occurred post-RNAi, including after targeting the mRNA of genes that had been computationally predicted to be essential for survival. Additionally, we defined operational parameters to facilitate large-scale RNAi, including choice of culture medium, transfection strategy to deliver dsRNA, dose- and time-dependency, and dosing limits. Finally, using fluorescent probes, we show that the developing gut allows rapid entrance of dsRNA into the parasite to initiate RNAi.
PMCID: PMC2957409  PMID: 20976050
9.  A whole genome RNAi screen of Drosophila S2 cell spreading performed using automated computational image analysis 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2010;191(3):471-478.
An automated, image-based RNAi screen for cell shape reveals roles for membrane secretion factors in cell spreading.
Recent technological advances in microscopy have enabled cell-based whole genome screens, but the analysis of the vast amount of image data generated by such screens usually proves to be rate limiting. In this study, we performed a whole genome RNA interference (RNAi) screen to uncover genes that affect spreading of Drosophila melanogaster S2 cells using several computational methods for analyzing the image data in an automated manner. Expected genes in the Scar-Arp2/3 actin nucleation pathway were identified as well as casein kinase I, which had a similar morphological RNAi signature. A distinct nonspreading morphological phenotype was identified for genes involved in membrane secretion or synthesis. In this group, we identified a new secretory peptide and investigated the functions of two poorly characterized endoplasmic reticulum proteins that have roles in secretion. Thus, this genome-wide screen succeeded in identifying known and unexpected proteins that are important for cell spreading, and the computational tools developed in this study should prove useful for other types of automated whole genome screens.
PMCID: PMC3003316  PMID: 21041442
10.  Dengue Virus Type 2 Infections of Aedes aegypti Are Modulated by the Mosquito's RNA Interference Pathway 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(2):e1000299.
A number of studies have shown that both innate and adaptive immune defense mechanisms greatly influence the course of human dengue virus (DENV) infections, but little is known about the innate immune response of the mosquito vector Aedes aegypti to arbovirus infection. We present evidence here that a major component of the mosquito innate immune response, RNA interference (RNAi), is an important modulator of mosquito infections. The RNAi response is triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which occurs in the cytoplasm as a result of positive-sense RNA virus infection, leading to production of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). These siRNAs are instrumental in degradation of viral mRNA with sequence homology to the dsRNA trigger and thereby inhibition of virus replication. We show that although dengue virus type 2 (DENV2) infection of Ae. aegypti cultured cells and oral infection of adult mosquitoes generated dsRNA and production of DENV2-specific siRNAs, virus replication and release of infectious virus persisted, suggesting viral circumvention of RNAi. We also show that DENV2 does not completely evade RNAi, since impairing the pathway by silencing expression of dcr2, r2d2, or ago2, genes encoding important sensor and effector proteins in the RNAi pathway, increased virus replication in the vector and decreased the extrinsic incubation period required for virus transmission. Our findings indicate a major role for RNAi as a determinant of DENV transmission by Ae. aegypti.
Author Summary
Dengue viruses, globally the most prevalent arboviruses, are transmitted to humans by persistently infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Understanding the mechanisms mosquitoes use to modulate infections by these agents of serious human diseases should give us critical insights into virus–vector interactions leading to transmission. RNA interference (RNAi) is an innate defense mechanism used by invertebrates to inhibit RNA virus infections; however, little is known about the antiviral role of RNAi in mosquitoes. RNAi is triggered by double-stranded RNA, leading to degradation of RNA with sequence homology to the dsRNA trigger. We show that dengue virus type 2 (DENV2) infection of Ae. aegypti by the natural route generates dsRNA and DENV2-specific small interfering RNAs, hallmarks of the RNAi response; nevertheless, persistent infection of mosquitoes occurs, suggesting that DENV2 circumvents RNAi. We also show that DENV2 infection is modulated by RNAi, since impairment by silencing expression of genes encoding important sensor and effector proteins in the RNAi pathway increases virus replication in the vector and decreases the incubation period before virus transmission. Our findings indicate a significant role for RNAi in determining the mosquito vector's potential for transmitting human diseases.
PMCID: PMC2633610  PMID: 19214215
11.  A forward genetic screen reveals essential and non-essential RNAi factors in Paramecium tetraurelia 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(11):7268-7280.
In most eukaryotes, small RNA-mediated gene silencing pathways form complex interacting networks. In the ciliate Paramecium tetraurelia, at least two RNA interference (RNAi) mechanisms coexist, involving distinct but overlapping sets of protein factors and producing different types of short interfering RNAs (siRNAs). One is specifically triggered by high-copy transgenes, and the other by feeding cells with double-stranded RNA (dsRNA)-producing bacteria. In this study, we designed a forward genetic screen for mutants deficient in dsRNA-induced silencing, and a powerful method to identify the relevant mutations by whole-genome sequencing. We present a set of 47 mutant alleles for five genes, revealing two previously unknown RNAi factors: a novel Paramecium-specific protein (Pds1) and a Cid1-like nucleotidyl transferase. Analyses of allelic diversity distinguish non-essential and essential genes and suggest that the screen is saturated for non-essential, single-copy genes. We show that non-essential genes are specifically involved in dsRNA-induced RNAi while essential ones are also involved in transgene-induced RNAi. One of the latter, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase RDR2, is further shown to be required for all known types of siRNAs, as well as for sexual reproduction. These results open the way for the dissection of the genetic complexity, interconnection, mechanisms and natural functions of RNAi pathways in P. tetraurelia.
PMCID: PMC4066745  PMID: 24860163
12.  MicroRNA–Directed siRNA Biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(4):e1000903.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a post-transcriptional silencing process, triggered by double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), leading to the destabilization of homologous mRNAs. A distinction has been made between endogenous RNAi–related pathways and the exogenous RNAi pathway, the latter being essential for the experimental use of RNAi. Previous studies have shown that, in Caenorhabditis elegans, a complex containing the enzymes Dicer and the Argonaute RDE-1 process dsRNA. Dicer is responsible for cleaving dsRNA into short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) while RDE-1 acts as the siRNA acceptor. RDE-1 then guides a multi-protein complex to homologous targets to trigger mRNA destabilization. However, endogenous role(s) for RDE-1, if any, have remained unexplored. We here show that RDE-1 functions as a scavenger protein, taking up small RNA molecules from many different sources, including the microRNA (miRNA) pathway. This is in striking contrast to Argonaute proteins functioning directly in the miRNA pathway, ALG-1 and ALG-2: these proteins exclusively bind miRNAs. While playing no significant role in the biogenesis of the main pool of miRNAs, RDE-1 binds endogenous miRNAs and triggers RdRP activity on at least one perfectly matching, endogenous miRNA target. The resulting secondary siRNAs are taken up by a set of Argonaute proteins known to act as siRNA acceptors in exogenous RNAi, resulting in strong mRNA destabilization. Our results show that RDE-1 in an endogenous setting is actively screening the transcriptome using many different small RNAs, including miRNAs, as a guide, with implications for the evolution of transcripts with a potential to be recognized by Dicer.
Author Summary
Due to its intrinsic characteristics, RNA interference (RNAi) has become one of the most widely used tools in cell biology and has revolutionized approaches to elucidate gene function. The process, also known as RNA silencing, is triggered by dsRNA molecules that are cleaved by Dicer proteins into small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). The rde-1 gene from Caenorhabditis elegans was one of the first genes found in association with this mechanism and encodes the only Argonaute protein in worms, which is by itself essential for the classical RNAi pathway triggered by exogenously introduced dsRNA. However, little is known about endogenous functions of RDE-1. Here we show that RDE-1 binds to many classes of small RNAs, including microRNAs. We show that miR-243 is efficiently bound by RDE-1 and triggers regular RNAi on an endogenous target, implying that many RNA species, including miRNAs, are constantly being screened against the transcriptome using the canonical exogenous RNAi pathway.
PMCID: PMC2851571  PMID: 20386745
13.  RNAi Effector Diversity in Nematodes 
While RNA interference (RNAi) has been deployed to facilitate gene function studies in diverse helminths, parasitic nematodes appear variably susceptible. To test if this is due to inter-species differences in RNAi effector complements, we performed a primary sequence similarity survey for orthologs of 77 Caenorhabditis elegans RNAi pathway proteins in 13 nematode species for which genomic or transcriptomic datasets were available, with all outputs subjected to domain-structure verification. Our dataset spanned transcriptomes of Ancylostoma caninum and Oesophagostomum dentatum, and genomes of Trichinella spiralis, Ascaris suum, Brugia malayi, Haemonchus contortus, Meloidogyne hapla, Meloidogyne incognita and Pristionchus pacificus, as well as the Caenorhabditis species C. brenneri, C. briggsae, C. japonica and C. remanei, and revealed that: (i) Most of the C. elegans proteins responsible for uptake and spread of exogenously applied double stranded (ds)RNA are absent from parasitic species, including RNAi-competent plant-nematodes; (ii) The Argonautes (AGOs) responsible for gene expression regulation in C. elegans are broadly conserved, unlike those recruited during the induction of RNAi by exogenous dsRNA; (iii) Secondary Argonautes (SAGOs) are poorly conserved, and the nuclear AGO NRDE-3 was not identified in any parasite; (iv) All five Caenorhabditis spp. possess an expanded RNAi effector repertoire relative to the parasitic nematodes, consistent with the propensity for gene loss in nematode parasites; (v) In spite of the quantitative differences in RNAi effector complements across nematode species, all displayed qualitatively similar coverage of functional protein groups. In summary, we could not identify RNAi effector deficiencies that associate with reduced susceptibility in parasitic nematodes. Indeed, similarities in the RNAi effector complements of RNAi refractory and competent nematode parasites support the broad applicability of this research genetic tool in nematodes.
Author Summary
Many organisms regulate gene expression through an RNA interference (RNAi) pathway, first characterized in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. This pathway can be triggered experimentally using double-stranded (ds)RNA to selected gene targets, thereby allowing researchers to ‘silence’ individual genes and so investigate their function. It is hoped that this technology will facilitate gene silencing in important parasitic nematodes that impose a considerable health and economic burden on mankind. Unfortunately, differences in RNAi susceptibility have been observed between species. Here we investigated the possibility that differences in the complement of effector proteins involved in the RNAi pathway are responsible for these differences in susceptibility. Our data revealed that most facets of the RNAi pathway are well represented across parasitic nematodes, although there were fewer pathway proteins in other nematodes compared to C. elegans. In contrast, the proteins responsible for uptake and spread of dsRNA are not well represented in parasitic nematodes. However, the importance of these differences is undermined by our observation that the protein complements in all the parasites were qualitatively similar, regardless of RNAi-susceptibility. Clearly, differences in the RNAi pathway of parasitic nematodes do not explain the variations in susceptibility to experimental RNAi.
PMCID: PMC3110158  PMID: 21666793
14.  Functional complementation of RNA interference mutants in trypanosomes 
BMC Biotechnology  2005;5:6.
In many eukaryotic cells, double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) triggers RNA interference (RNAi), the specific degradation of RNA of homologous sequence. RNAi is now a major tool for reverse-genetics projects, including large-scale high-throughput screens. Recent reports have questioned the specificity of RNAi, raising problems in interpretation of RNAi-based experiments.
Using the protozoan Trypanosoma brucei as a model, we designed a functional complementation assay to ascertain that phenotypic effect(s) observed upon RNAi were due to specific silencing of the targeted gene. This was applied to a cytoskeletal gene encoding the paraflagellar rod protein 2 (TbPFR2), whose product is essential for flagellar motility. We demonstrate the complementation of TbPFR2, silenced via dsRNA targeting its UTRs, through the expression of a tagged RNAi-resistant TbPFR2 encoding a protein that could be immunolocalized in the flagellum. Next, we performed a functional complementation of TbPFR2, silenced via dsRNA targeting its coding sequence, through heterologous expression of the TbPFR2 orthologue gene from Trypanosoma cruzi: the flagellum regained its motility.
This work shows that functional complementation experiments can be readily performed in order to ascertain that phenotypic effects observed upon RNAi experiments are indeed due to the specific silencing of the targetted gene. Further, the results described here are of particular interest when reverse genetics studies cannot be easily achieved in organisms not amenable to RNAi. In addition, our strategy should constitute a firm basis to elaborate functional-dissection studies of genes from other organisms.
PMCID: PMC549545  PMID: 15703078
15.  Modularity and hormone sensitivity of the Drosophila melanogaster insulin receptor/target of rapamycin interaction proteome 
First systematic analysis of the evolutionary conserved InR/TOR pathway interaction proteome in Drosophila.Quantitative mass spectrometry revealed that 22% of identified protein interactions are regulated by the growth hormone insulin affecting membrane proximal as well as intracellular signaling complexes.Systematic RNA interference linked a significant fraction of network components to the control of dTOR kinase activity.Combined biochemical and genetic data suggest dTTT, a dTOR-containing complex required for cell growth control by dTORC1 and dTORC2 in vivo.
Cellular growth is a fundamental process that requires constant adaptations to changing environmental conditions, like growth factor and nutrient availability, energy levels and more. Over the years, the insulin receptor/target of rapamycin pathway (InR/TOR) emerged as a key signaling system for the control of metazoan cell growth. Genetic screens carried out in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster identified key InR/TOR pathway components and their relationships. Phenotypes such as altered cell growth are likely to emerge from perturbed dynamic networks containing InR/TOR pathway components, which stably or transiently interact with other cellular proteins to form complexes and networks thereof. Systematic studies on the topology and dynamics of protein interaction networks become therefore highly relevant to gain systems level understanding of deregulated cell growth. Despite much progress in genetic analysis only few systematic protein interaction studies have been reported for Drosophila, which in most cases lack quantitative information representing the dynamic nature of such networks. Here, we present the first quantitative affinity purification mass spectrometry (AP–MS/MS) analysis on the evolutionary conserved InR/TOR signaling network in Drosophila. Systematic RNAi-based functional analysis of identified network components revealed key components linked to the regulation of the central effector kinase dTOR. This includes also dTTT, a novel dTOR-containing complex required for the control of dTORC1 and dTORC2 in vivo.
For systematic AP–MS analysis, we generated Drosophila Kc167 cell lines inducibly expressing affinity-tagged bait proteins previously linked to InR/TOR signaling. Bait expressing Kc167 cell lines were harvested before and after insulin stimulation for subsequent affinity purification. Following LC–MS/MS analysis and probabilistic data filtering using SAINT (Choi et al, 2010), we generated a quantitative network model from 97 high confidence protein–protein interactions and 58 network components (Figure 2). The presented network displayed a high degree of orthologous interactions conserved also in human cells and identified a number of novel molecular interactions with InR/TOR signaling components for future hypothesis driven analysis.
To measure insulin-induced changes within the InR/TOR interaction proteome, we applied a recently introduced label-free quantitative MS approach (Rinner et al, 2007). The obtained quantitative data suggest that 22% of all interactions in the network are regulated by insulin. Major changes could be observed within the membrane proximal InR/chico/PI3K signaling complexes, and also in 14-3-3 protein containing signaling complexes and dTORC1, a complex that contains besides dTOR all major orthologous proteins found also in human mTORC1 including the two dTORC1 substrates d4E-BP (Thor) and S6 Kinase (S6K). Insulin triggered both, dissociation and association of dTORC1 proteins. Among the proteins that showed enhanced binding to dTORC1 upon insulin stimulation we found Unkempt, a RING-finger protein with a proposed role in ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation (Lores et al, 2010). Besides dTORC1 our systematic AP–MS analysis also revealed the presence of dTORC2, the second major TOR complex in Drosophila. dTORC2 contains the Drosophila orthologous of human mTORC2 proteins, but in contrast to dTORC1 was not affected upon insulin stimulation. Interestingly, we also found a specific set of proteins that were not linked to the canonical TOR complexes TORC1 and TORC2 in dTOR purifications. These include LqfR (liquid facets related), Pontin, Reptin, Spaghetti and the gene product of CG16908. We found the same set of proteins when we used CG16908 as a bait, suggesting complex formation among the identified proteins. None of the dTORC1/2 components besides dTOR was identified in CG16908 purifications, indicating that these proteins form dTOR complexes distinct from dTORC1 and dTORC2. Based on known interaction information from other species and data obtained from this study we refer to this complex as dTTT (Drosophila TOR, TELO2, TTI1) (Horejsi et al, 2010; [18]Hurov et al, 2010; [20]Kaizuka et al, 2010). A directed quantitative MS analysis of dTOR complex components suggests that dTORC1 is the most abundant dTOR complex we identified in Kc167 cells.
We next studied the potential roles of the identified network components for controlling the activity of the dInR/TOR pathway using systematic RNAi depletion and quantitative western blotting to measure the changes in abundance of phosphorylated substrates of dTORC1 (Thor/d4E-BP, dS6K) and dTORC2 (dPKB) in RNAi-treated cells (Figure 5). Overall, we could identify 16 proteins (out of 58) whose depletion caused an at least 50% increase or decrease in the levels of phosphorylated d4E-BP, S6K and/or PKB compared with control GFP RNAi. Besides established pathway components, we found several novel regulators within the dInR/TOR interaction network. For example, RNAi against the novel insulin-regulated dTORC1 component Unkempt resulted in enhanced phosphorylation of the dTORC1 substrate d4E-BP, which suggests a negative role for Unkempt on dTORC1 activity. In contrast, depletion of CG16908 and LqfR caused hypo-phosphorylation of all dTOR substrates similar to dTOR itself, suggesting a positive role for the dTTT complex on dTOR activity. Subsequently, we tested whether dTTT components also plays a role in dTOR-mediated cell growth in vivo. Depletion of both dTTT components, CG16908 and LqfR, in the Drosophila eye resulted in a substantial decrease in eye size. Likewise, FLP-FRT-mediated mitotic recombination resulted in CG16908 and LqfR mutant clones with a similar reduced growth phenotype as observed in dTOR mutant clones. Hence, the combined biochemical and genetic analysis revealed dTTT as a dTOR-containing complex required for the activity of both dTORC1 and dTORC2 and thus plays a critical role in controlling cell growth.
Taken together, these results illustrate how a systematic quantitative AP–MS approach when combined with systematic functional analysis in Drosophila can reveal novel insights into the dynamic organization of regulatory networks for cell growth control in metazoans.
Using quantitative mass spectrometry, this study reports how insulin affects the modularity of the interaction proteome of the Drosophila InR/TOR pathway, an evolutionary conserved signaling system for the control of metazoan cell growth. Systematic functional analysis linked a significant number of identified network components to the control of dTOR activity and revealed dTTT, a dTOR complex required for in vivo cell growth control by dTORC1 and dTORC2.
Genetic analysis in Drosophila melanogaster has been widely used to identify a system of genes that control cell growth in response to insulin and nutrients. Many of these genes encode components of the insulin receptor/target of rapamycin (InR/TOR) pathway. However, the biochemical context of this regulatory system is still poorly characterized in Drosophila. Here, we present the first quantitative study that systematically characterizes the modularity and hormone sensitivity of the interaction proteome underlying growth control by the dInR/TOR pathway. Applying quantitative affinity purification and mass spectrometry, we identified 97 high confidence protein interactions among 58 network components. In all, 22% of the detected interactions were regulated by insulin affecting membrane proximal as well as intracellular signaling complexes. Systematic functional analysis linked a subset of network components to the control of dTORC1 and dTORC2 activity. Furthermore, our data suggest the presence of three distinct dTOR kinase complexes, including the evolutionary conserved dTTT complex (Drosophila TOR, TELO2, TTI1). Subsequent genetic studies in flies suggest a role for dTTT in controlling cell growth via a dTORC1- and dTORC2-dependent mechanism.
PMCID: PMC3261712  PMID: 22068330
cell growth; InR/TOR pathway; interaction proteome; quantitative mass spectrometry; signaling
16.  Knockdown of Midgut Genes by dsRNA-Transgenic Plant-Mediated RNA Interference in the Hemipteran Insect Nilaparvata lugens 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20504.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful technique for functional genomics research in insects. Transgenic plants producing double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) directed against insect genes have been reported for lepidopteran and coleopteran insects, showing potential for field-level control of insect pests, but this has not been reported for other insect orders.
Methodology/Principal Findings
The Hemipteran insect brown planthopper (Nilaparvata lugens Stål) is a typical phloem sap feeder specific to rice (Oryza sativa L.). To analyze the potential of exploiting RNAi-mediated effects in this insect, we identified genes (Nlsid-1 and Nlaub) encoding proteins that might be involved in the RNAi pathway in N. lugens. Both genes are expressed ubiquitously in nymphs and adult insects. Three genes (the hexose transporter gene NlHT1, the carboxypeptidase gene Nlcar and the trypsin-like serine protease gene Nltry) that are highly expressed in the N. lugens midgut were isolated and used to develop dsRNA constructs for transforming rice. RNA blot analysis showed that the dsRNAs were transcribed and some of them were processed to siRNAs in the transgenic lines. When nymphs were fed on rice plants expressing dsRNA, levels of transcripts of the targeted genes in the midgut were reduced; however, lethal phenotypic effects after dsRNA feeding were not observed.
Our study shows that genes for the RNAi pathway (Nlsid-1 and Nlaub) are present in N. lugens. When insects were fed on rice plant materials expressing dsRNAs, RNA interference was triggered and the target genes transcript levels were suppressed. The gene knockdown technique described here may prove to be a valuable tool for further investigations in N. lugens. The results demonstrate the potential of dsRNA-mediated RNAi for field-level control of planthoppers, but appropriate target genes must be selected when designing the dsRNA-transgenic plants.
PMCID: PMC3105074  PMID: 21655219
17.  An RIG-I-Like RNA Helicase Mediates Antiviral RNAi Downstream of Viral siRNA Biogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(2):e1000286.
Dicer ribonucleases of plants and invertebrate animals including Caenorhabditis elegans recognize and process a viral RNA trigger into virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to guide specific viral immunity by Argonaute-dependent RNA interference (RNAi). C. elegans also encodes three Dicer-related helicase (drh) genes closely related to the RIG-I-like RNA helicase receptors which initiate broad-spectrum innate immunity against RNA viruses in mammals. Here we developed a transgenic C. elegans strain that expressed intense green fluorescence from a chromosomally integrated flock house virus replicon only after knockdown or knockout of a gene required for antiviral RNAi. Use of the reporter nematode strain in a feeding RNAi screen identified drh-1 as an essential component of the antiviral RNAi pathway. However, RNAi induced by either exogenous dsRNA or the viral replicon was enhanced in drh-2 mutant nematodes, whereas exogenous RNAi was essentially unaltered in drh-1 mutant nematodes, indicating that exogenous and antiviral RNAi pathways are genetically distinct. Genetic epistatic analysis shows that drh-1 acts downstream of virus sensing and viral siRNA biogenesis to mediate specific antiviral RNAi. Notably, we found that two members of the substantially expanded subfamily of Argonautes specific to C. elegans control parallel antiviral RNAi pathways. These findings demonstrate both conserved and unique strategies of C. elegans in antiviral defense.
Author Summary
The genome of Caenorhabditis elegans encodes three Dicer-related helicases (DRHs) highly homologous to the DExD/H box helicase domain found in two distinct families of virus sensors, Dicer ribonucleases and RIG-I-like helicases (RLRs). Dicer initiates the specific, RNAi-mediated viral immunity in plants, fungi and invertebrates by producing virus-derived small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). By contrast, mammalian RLRs trigger interferon production and broad-spectrum viral immunity, although one of the three RLRs may act as both a negative and positive regulator of viral immunity. In this study we developed a transgenic C. elegans strain for high-throughput genetic screens and identified 35 genes including drh-1 that are required for RNAi-mediated viral immunity. Genetic epistatic analyses demonstrate that drh-1 mediates RNAi immunity downstream of the production of viral siRNAs. Notably, we found that drh-2 functions as a negative regulator of the viral immunity. Thus, both nematode DRHs and mammalian RLRs participate in antiviral immune responses. Unlike mammalian RLRs, however, nematode DRH-1 employs an RNAi effector mechanism and is unlikely to be involved in direct virus sensing.
PMCID: PMC2629121  PMID: 19197349
18.  Parallel RNAi screens across different cell lines identify generic and cell type-specific regulators of actin organization and cell morphology 
Genome Biology  2009;10(3):R26.
Parallel RNA interference screens and gene expression arrays in six Drosophila cell lines identified regulators of cell morphology, including a neuronal function for the kinase minibrain/DYRK1A in the regulation of protrusion morphology.
In recent years RNAi screening has proven a powerful tool for dissecting gene functions in animal cells in culture. However, to date, most RNAi screens have been performed in a single cell line, and results then extrapolated across cell types and systems.
Here, to dissect generic and cell type-specific mechanisms underlying cell morphology, we have performed identical kinome RNAi screens in six different Drosophila cell lines, derived from two distinct tissues of origin. This analysis identified a core set of kinases required for normal cell morphology in all lines tested, together with a number of kinases with cell type-specific functions. Most significantly, the screen identified a role for minibrain (mnb/DYRK1A), a kinase associated with Down's syndrome, in the regulation of actin-based protrusions in CNS-derived cell lines. This cell type-specific requirement was not due to the peculiarities in the morphology of CNS-derived cells and could not be attributed to differences in mnb expression. Instead, it likely reflects differences in gene expression that constitute the cell type-specific functional context in which mnb/DYRK1A acts.
Using parallel RNAi screens and gene expression analyses across cell types we have identified generic and cell type-specific regulators of cell morphology, which include mnb/DYRK1A in the regulation of protrusion morphology in CNS-derived cell lines. This analysis reveals the importance of using different cell types to gain a thorough understanding of gene function across the genome and, in the case of kinases, the difficulties of using the differential gene expression to predict function.
PMCID: PMC2690997  PMID: 19265526
19.  Modeling Recursive RNA Interference 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(9):e1000183.
An important application of the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway is its use as a small RNA-based regulatory system commonly exploited to suppress expression of target genes to test their function in vivo. In several published experiments, RNAi has been used to inactivate components of the RNAi pathway itself, a procedure termed recursive RNAi in this report. The theoretical basis of recursive RNAi is unclear since the procedure could potentially be self-defeating, and in practice the effectiveness of recursive RNAi in published experiments is highly variable. A mathematical model for recursive RNAi was developed and used to investigate the range of conditions under which the procedure should be effective. The model predicts that the effectiveness of recursive RNAi is strongly dependent on the efficacy of RNAi at knocking down target gene expression. This efficacy is known to vary highly between different cell types, and comparison of the model predictions to published experimental data suggests that variation in RNAi efficacy may be the main cause of discrepancies between published recursive RNAi experiments in different organisms. The model suggests potential ways to optimize the effectiveness of recursive RNAi both for screening of RNAi components as well as for improved temporal control of gene expression in switch off–switch on experiments.
Author Summary
RNA interference is a gene regulatory system in which small RNA molecules turn off genes that have similar sequences to the small RNAs. This has become a powerful tool because a researcher can use RNA interference to turn off any gene of interest in order to test its function. There is great interest in identifying the genes required for the RNA interference pathway, and one approach to identifying such genes has been to use RNA interference to turn off potential RNA interference genes and to ask whether RNA interference still functions when these genes are turned off. The goal of our report is to ask how it is possible for RNA interference to turn itself off, using a mathematical model of the system. The results show that RNA interference cannot turn itself off if the RNA interference pathway is too effective to start with, so that experiments in which RNA interference acts on itself will only work in systems having a low efficiency. The results of our model suggest possible ways to improve the self-inactivation of RNA interference.
PMCID: PMC2522276  PMID: 18802453
20.  Advances in genome-wide RNAi cellular screens: a case study using the Drosophila JAK/STAT pathway 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:506.
Genome-scale RNA-interference (RNAi) screens are becoming ever more common gene discovery tools. However, whilst every screen identifies interacting genes, less attention has been given to how factors such as library design and post-screening bioinformatics may be effecting the data generated.
Here we present a new genome-wide RNAi screen of the Drosophila JAK/STAT signalling pathway undertaken in the Sheffield RNAi Screening Facility (SRSF). This screen was carried out using a second-generation, computationally optimised dsRNA library and analysed using current methods and bioinformatic tools. To examine advances in RNAi screening technology, we compare this screen to a biologically very similar screen undertaken in 2005 with a first-generation library. Both screens used the same cell line, reporters and experimental design, with the SRSF screen identifying 42 putative regulators of JAK/STAT signalling, 22 of which verified in a secondary screen and 16 verified with an independent probe design. Following reanalysis of the original screen data, comparisons of the two gene lists allows us to make estimates of false discovery rates in the SRSF data and to conduct an assessment of off-target effects (OTEs) associated with both libraries. We discuss the differences and similarities between the resulting data sets and examine the relative improvements in gene discovery protocols.
Our work represents one of the first direct comparisons between first- and second-generation libraries and shows that modern library designs together with methodological advances have had a significant influence on genome-scale RNAi screens.
PMCID: PMC3526451  PMID: 23006893
Genome screening; RNAi; Off-target effect; JAK/STAT pathway; Functional genomics; dsRNA
21.  A Computational model for compressed sensing RNAi cellular screening 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13:337.
RNA interference (RNAi) becomes an increasingly important and effective genetic tool to study the function of target genes by suppressing specific genes of interest. This system approach helps identify signaling pathways and cellular phase types by tracking intensity and/or morphological changes of cells. The traditional RNAi screening scheme, in which one siRNA is designed to knockdown one specific mRNA target, needs a large library of siRNAs and turns out to be time-consuming and expensive.
In this paper, we propose a conceptual model, called compressed sensing RNAi (csRNAi), which employs a unique combination of group of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) to knockdown a much larger size of genes. This strategy is based on the fact that one gene can be partially bound with several small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and conversely, one siRNA can bind to a few genes with distinct binding affinity. This model constructs a multi-to-multi correspondence between siRNAs and their targets, with siRNAs much fewer than mRNA targets, compared with the conventional scheme. Mathematically this problem involves an underdetermined system of equations (linear or nonlinear), which is ill-posed in general. However, the recently developed compressed sensing (CS) theory can solve this problem. We present a mathematical model to describe the csRNAi system based on both CS theory and biological concerns. To build this model, we first search nucleotide motifs in a target gene set. Then we propose a machine learning based method to find the effective siRNAs with novel features, such as image features and speech features to describe an siRNA sequence. Numerical simulations show that we can reduce the siRNA library to one third of that in the conventional scheme. In addition, the features to describe siRNAs outperform the existing ones substantially.
This csRNAi system is very promising in saving both time and cost for large-scale RNAi screening experiments which may benefit the biological research with respect to cellular processes and pathways.
PMCID: PMC3544734  PMID: 23270311
22.  Evidence of a tick RNAi pathway by comparative genomics and reverse genetics screen of targets with known loss-of-function phenotypes in Drosophila 
BMC Molecular Biology  2009;10:26.
The Arthropods are a diverse group of organisms including Chelicerata (ticks, mites, spiders), Crustacea (crabs, shrimps), and Insecta (flies, mosquitoes, beetles, silkworm). The cattle tick, Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus, is an economically significant ectoparasite of cattle affecting cattle industries world wide. With the availability of sequence reads from the first Chelicerate genome project (the Ixodes scapularis tick) and extensive R. microplus ESTs, we investigated evidence for putative RNAi proteins and studied RNA interference in tick cell cultures and adult female ticks targeting Drosophila homologues with known cell viability phenotype.
We screened 13,643 R. microplus ESTs and I. scapularis genome reads to identify RNAi related proteins in ticks. Our analysis identified 31 RNAi proteins including a putative tick Dicer, RISC associated (Ago-2 and FMRp), RNA dependent RNA polymerase (EGO-1) and 23 homologues implicated in dsRNA uptake and processing. We selected 10 R. microplus ESTs with >80% similarity to D. melanogaster proteins associated with cell viability for RNAi functional screens in both BME26 R. microplus embryonic cells and female ticks in vivo. Only genes associated with proteasomes had an effect on cell viability in vitro. In vivo RNAi showed that 9 genes had significant effects either causing lethality or impairing egg laying.
We have identified key RNAi-related proteins in ticks and along with our loss-of-function studies support a functional RNAi pathway in R. microplus. Our preliminary studies indicate that tick RNAi pathways may differ from that of other Arthropods such as insects.
PMCID: PMC2676286  PMID: 19323841
23.  Genome-Wide RNAi of C. elegans Using the Hypersensitive rrf-3 Strain Reveals Novel Gene Functions 
PLoS Biology  2003;1(1):e12.
RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) is a method to inhibit gene function by introduction of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). Recently, an RNAi library was constructed that consists of bacterial clones expressing dsRNA, corresponding to nearly 90% of the 19,427 predicted genes of C. elegans. Feeding of this RNAi library to the standard wild-type laboratory strain Bristol N2 detected phenotypes for approximately 10% of the corresponding genes. To increase the number of genes for which a loss-of-function phenotype can be detected, we undertook a genome-wide RNAi screen using the rrf-3 mutant strain, which we found to be hypersensitive to RNAi. Feeding of the RNAi library to rrf-3 mutants resulted in additional loss-of-function phenotypes for 393 genes, increasing the number of genes with a phenotype by 23%. These additional phenotypes are distributed over different phenotypic classes. We also studied interexperimental variability in RNAi results and found persistent levels of false negatives. In addition, we used the RNAi phenotypes obtained with the genome-wide screens to systematically clone seven existing genetic mutants with visible phenotypes. The genome-wide RNAi screen using rrf-3 significantly increased the functional data on the C. elegans genome. The resulting dataset will be valuable in conjunction with other functional genomics approaches, as well as in other model organisms.
The screen suggested functions for 393 genes for which no RNAi-mediated phenotype was known. The comparison with similar screens in worms has general implications for RNAi experiments
PMCID: PMC212692  PMID: 14551910
24.  Exploring systemic RNA interference in insects: a genome-wide survey for RNAi genes in Tribolium 
Genome Biology  2008;9(1):R10.
Tribolium resembles C. elegans in showing a robust systemic RNAi response, but does not have C. elegans-type RNAi mechanisms; insect systemic RNAi probably uses a different mechanism.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a highly conserved cellular mechanism. In some organisms, such as Caenorhabditis elegans, the RNAi response can be transmitted systemically. Some insects also exhibit a systemic RNAi response. However, Drosophila, the leading insect model organism, does not show a robust systemic RNAi response, necessitating another model system to study the molecular mechanism of systemic RNAi in insects.
We used Tribolium, which exhibits robust systemic RNAi, as an alternative model system. We have identified the core RNAi genes, as well as genes potentially involved in systemic RNAi, from the Tribolium genome. Both phylogenetic and functional analyses suggest that Tribolium has a somewhat larger inventory of core component genes than Drosophila, perhaps allowing a more sensitive response to double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). We also identified three Tribolium homologs of C. elegans sid-1, which encodes a possible dsRNA channel. However, detailed sequence analysis has revealed that these Tribolium homologs share more identity with another C. elegans gene, tag-130. We analyzed tag-130 mutants, and found that this gene does not have a function in systemic RNAi in C. elegans. Likewise, the Tribolium sid-like genes do not seem to be required for systemic RNAi. These results suggest that insect sid-1-like genes have a different function than dsRNA uptake. Moreover, Tribolium lacks homologs of several genes important for RNAi in C. elegans.
Although both Tribolium and C. elegans show a robust systemic RNAi response, our genome-wide survey reveals significant differences between the RNAi mechanisms of these organisms. Thus, insects may use an alternative mechanism for the systemic RNAi response. Understanding this process would assist with rendering other insects amenable to systemic RNAi, and may influence pest control approaches.
PMCID: PMC2395250  PMID: 18201385
25.  Postembryonic RNAi in Heterorhabditis bacteriophora: a nematode insect parasite and host for insect pathogenic symbionts 
Heterorhabditis bacteriophora is applied throughout the world for the biological control of insects and is an animal model to study interspecies interactions, e.g. mutualism, parasitism and vector-borne disease. H. bacteriophora nematodes are mutually associated with the insect pathogen, Photorhabdus luminescens. The developmentally arrested infective juvenile (IJ) stage nematode (vector) specifically transmits Photorhabdus luminescens bacteria (pathogen) in its gut mucosa to the haemocoel of insects (host). The nematode vector and pathogen alone are not known to cause insect disease. RNA interference is an excellent reverse genetic tool to study gene function in C. elegans, and it would be useful in H. bacteriophora to exploit the H. bacteriophora genome project, currently in progress.
Soaking L1 stage H. bacteriophora with seven dsRNAs of genes whose C. elegans orthologs had severe RNAi phenotypes resulted in highly penetrant and obvious developmental and reproductive abnormalities. The efficacy of postembryonic double strand RNA interference (RNAi) was evident by abnormal gonad morphology and sterility of adult H. bacteriophora and C. elegans presumable due to defects in germ cell proliferation and gonad development. The penetrance of RNAi phenotypes in H. bacteriophora was high for five genes (87–100%; Hba-cct-2, Hba-daf-21, Hba-icd-1; Hba-nol-5, and Hba-W01G7.3) and moderate for two genes (usually 30–50%; Hba-rack-1 and Hba-arf-1). RNAi of three additional C. elegans orthologs for which RNAi phenotypes were not previously detected in C. elegans, also did not result in any apparent phenotypes in H. bacteriophora. Specific and severe reduction in transcript levels in RNAi treated L1s was determined by quantitative real-time RT-PCR. These results suggest that postembryonic RNAi by soaking is potent and specific.
Although RNAi is conserved in animals and plants, RNAi using long dsRNA is not. These results demonstrate that RNAi can be used effectively in H. bacteriophora and can be applied for analyses of nematode genes involved in symbiosis and parasitism. It is likely that RNAi will be an important tool for functional genomics utilizing the high quality draft H. bacteriophora genome sequence.
PMCID: PMC2014770  PMID: 17803822

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