A large set of high-content RNAi screens investigating mammalian virus infection and multiple cellular activities is analysed to reveal the impact of population context on phenotypic variability and to identify indirect RNAi effects.
Cell population context determines phenotypes in RNAi screens of multiple cellular activities (including virus infection, cell size regulation, endocytosis, and lipid homeostasis), which can be accounted for by a combination of novel image analysis and multivariate statistical methods.Accounting for cell population context-mediated effects strongly changes the reproducibility and consistency of RNAi screens across cell lines as well as of siRNAs targeting the same gene.Such analyses can identify the perturbed regulation of population context dependent cell-to-cell variability, a novel perturbation phenotype.Overall, these methods advance the use of large-scale RNAi screening for a systems-level understanding of cellular processes.
Isogenic cells in culture show strong variability, which arises from dynamic adaptations to the microenvironment of individual cells. Here we study the influence of the cell population context, which determines a single cell's microenvironment, in image-based RNAi screens. We developed a comprehensive computational approach that employs Bayesian and multivariate methods at the single-cell level. We applied these methods to 45 RNA interference screens of various sizes, including 7 druggable genome and 2 genome-wide screens, analysing 17 different mammalian virus infections and four related cell physiological processes. Analysing cell-based screens at this depth reveals widespread RNAi-induced changes in the population context of individual cells leading to indirect RNAi effects, as well as perturbations of cell-to-cell variability regulators. We find that accounting for indirect effects improves the consistency between siRNAs targeted against the same gene, and between replicate RNAi screens performed in different cell lines, in different labs, and with different siRNA libraries. In an era where large-scale RNAi screens are increasingly performed to reach a systems-level understanding of cellular processes, we show that this is often improved by analyses that account for and incorporate the single-cell microenvironment.
cell-to-cell variability; image analysis; population context; RNAi; virus infection
The analysis of high-throughput screening data sets is an expanding field in bioinformatics. High-throughput screens by RNAi generate large primary data sets which need to be analyzed and annotated to identify relevant phenotypic hits. Large-scale RNAi screens are frequently used to identify novel factors that influence a broad range of cellular processes, including signaling pathway activity, cell proliferation, and host cell infection. Here, we present a web-based application utility for the end-to-end analysis of large cell-based screening experiments by cellHTS2.
The software guides the user through the configuration steps that are required for the analysis of single or multi-channel experiments. The web-application provides options for various standardization and normalization methods, annotation of data sets and a comprehensive HTML report of the screening data analysis, including a ranked hit list. Sessions can be saved and restored for later re-analysis. The web frontend for the cellHTS2 R/Bioconductor package interacts with it through an R-server implementation that enables highly parallel analysis of screening data sets. web cellHTS2 further provides a file import and configuration module for common file formats.
The implemented web-application facilitates the analysis of high-throughput data sets and provides a user-friendly interface. web cellHTS2 is accessible online at http://web-cellHTS2.dkfz.de. A standalone version as a virtual appliance and source code for platforms supporting Java 1.5.0 can be downloaded from the web cellHTS2 page. web cellHTS2 is freely distributed under GPL.
The recent emergence of high-throughput automated image acquisition technologies has forever changed how cell biologists collect and analyze data. Historically, the interpretation of cellular phenotypes in different experimental conditions has been dependent upon the expert opinions of well-trained biologists. Such qualitative analysis is particularly effective in detecting subtle, but important, deviations in phenotypes. However, while the rapid and continuing development of automated microscope-based technologies now facilitates the acquisition of trillions of cells in thousands of diverse experimental conditions, such as in the context of RNA interference (RNAi) or small-molecule screens, the massive size of these datasets precludes human analysis. Thus, the development of automated methods which aim to identify novel and biological relevant phenotypes online is one of the major challenges in high-throughput image-based screening. Ideally, phenotype discovery methods should be designed to utilize prior/existing information and tackle three challenging tasks, i.e. restoring pre-defined biological meaningful phenotypes, differentiating novel phenotypes from known ones and clarifying novel phenotypes from each other. Arbitrarily extracted information causes biased analysis, while combining the complete existing datasets with each new image is intractable in high-throughput screens.
Here we present the design and implementation of a novel and robust online phenotype discovery method with broad applicability that can be used in diverse experimental contexts, especially high-throughput RNAi screens. This method features phenotype modelling and iterative cluster merging using improved gap statistics. A Gaussian Mixture Model (GMM) is employed to estimate the distribution of each existing phenotype, and then used as reference distribution in gap statistics. This method is broadly applicable to a number of different types of image-based datasets derived from a wide spectrum of experimental conditions and is suitable to adaptively process new images which are continuously added to existing datasets. Validations were carried out on different dataset, including published RNAi screening using Drosophila embryos [Additional files 1, 2], dataset for cell cycle phase identification using HeLa cells [Additional files 1, 3, 4] and synthetic dataset using polygons, our methods tackled three aforementioned tasks effectively with an accuracy range of 85%–90%. When our method is implemented in the context of a Drosophila genome-scale RNAi image-based screening of cultured cells aimed to identifying the contribution of individual genes towards the regulation of cell-shape, it efficiently discovers meaningful new phenotypes and provides novel biological insight. We also propose a two-step procedure to modify the novelty detection method based on one-class SVM, so that it can be used to online phenotype discovery. In different conditions, we compared the SVM based method with our method using various datasets and our methods consistently outperformed SVM based method in at least two of three tasks by 2% to 5%. These results demonstrate that our methods can be used to better identify novel phenotypes in image-based datasets from a wide range of conditions and organisms.
We demonstrate that our method can detect various novel phenotypes effectively in complex datasets. Experiment results also validate that our method performs consistently under different order of image input, variation of starting conditions including the number and composition of existing phenotypes, and dataset from different screens. In our findings, the proposed method is suitable for online phenotype discovery in diverse high-throughput image-based genetic and chemical screens.
Recently, High-content screening (HCS) has been combined with RNA interference (RNAi) to become an essential image-based high-throughput method for studying genes and biological networks through RNAi-induced cellular phenotype analyses. However, a genome-wide RNAi-HCS screen typically generates tens of thousands of images, most of which remain uncategorized due to the inadequacies of existing HCS image analysis tools. Until now, it still requires highly trained scientists to browse a prohibitively large RNAi-HCS image database and produce only a handful of qualitative results regarding cellular morphological phenotypes. For this reason we have developed intelligent interfaces to facilitate the application of the HCS technology in biomedical research. Our new interfaces empower biologists with computational power not only to effectively and efficiently explore large-scale RNAi-HCS image databases, but also to apply their knowledge and experience to interactive mining of cellular phenotypes using Content-Based Image Retrieval (CBIR) with Relevance Feedback (RF) techniques.
Fluorescence microscopy is one of the most powerful tools to investigate complex cellular processes such as cell division, cell motility, or intracellular trafficking. The availability of RNA interference (RNAi) technology and automated microscopy has opened the possibility to perform cellular imaging in functional genomics and other large-scale applications. Although imaging often dramatically increases the content of a screening assay, it poses new challenges to achieve accurate quantitative annotation and therefore needs to be carefully adjusted to the specific needs of individual screening applications. In this review, we discuss principles of assay design, large-scale RNAi, microscope automation, and computational data analysis. We highlight strategies for imaging-based RNAi screening adapted to different library and assay designs.
RNA interference (RNAi) leads to sequence-specific knockdown of gene function. The approach can be used in large-scale screens to interrogate function in various model organisms and an increasing number of other species. Genome-scale RNAi screens are routinely performed in cultured or primary cells or in vivo in organisms such as C. elegans. High-throughput RNAi screening is benefitting from the development of sophisticated new instrumentation and software tools for collecting and analyzing data, including high-content image data. The results of large-scale RNAi screens have already proved useful, leading to new understandings of gene function relevant to topics such as infection, cancer, obesity and aging. Nevertheless, important caveats apply and should be taken into consideration when developing or interpreting RNAi screens. Some level of false discovery is inherent to high-throughput approaches and specific to RNAi screens, false discovery due to off-target effects (OTEs) of RNAi reagents remains a problem. The need to improve our ability to use RNAi to elucidate gene function at large scale and in additional systems continues to be addressed through improved RNAi library design, development of innovative computational and analysis tools and other approaches.
RNAi; high-throughput screens; high-content imaging; cell-based assays
FLIGHT (http://flight.icr.ac.uk/) is an online resource compiling data from high-throughput Drosophila in vivo and in vitro RNAi screens. FLIGHT includes details of RNAi reagents and their predicted off-target effects, alongside RNAi screen hits, scores and phenotypes, including images from high-content screens. The latest release of FLIGHT is designed to enable users to upload, analyze, integrate and share their own RNAi screens. Users can perform multiple normalizations, view quality control plots, detect and assign screen hits and compare hits from multiple screens using a variety of methods including hierarchical clustering. FLIGHT integrates RNAi screen data with microarray gene expression as well as genomic annotations and genetic/physical interaction datasets to provide a single interface for RNAi screen analysis and datamining in Drosophila.
RNAi; database; integration; bioinformatics; phenotype
A second generation dsRNA library was used to re-assess factors that influence the outcome of transcriptional reporter-based whole-genome RNAi screens for the Wnt/Wingless (wg) and Hedgehog (hh)-signaling pathways.
Off-target effects have been demonstrated to be a major source of false-positives in RNA interference (RNAi) high-throughput screens. In this study, we re-assess the previously published transcriptional reporter-based whole-genome RNAi screens for the Wingless and Hedgehog signaling pathways using second generation double-stranded RNA libraries. Furthermore, we investigate other factors that may influence the outcome of such screens, including cell-type specificity, robustness of reporters, and assay normalization, which determine the efficacy of RNAi-knockdown of target genes.
With recent advances in fluorescence microscopy imaging techniques and methods of gene knock down by RNA interference (RNAi), genome-scale high-content screening (HCS) has emerged as a powerful approach to systematically identify all parts of complex biological processes. However, a critical barrier preventing fulfillment of the success is the lack of efficient and robust methods for automating RNAi image analysis and quantitative evaluation of the gene knock down effects on huge volume of HCS data. Facing such opportunities and challenges, we have started investigation of automatic methods towards the development of a fully automatic RNAi-HCS system. Particularly important are reliable approaches to cellular phenotype classification and image-based gene function estimation.
We have developed a HCS analysis platform that consists of two main components: fluorescence image analysis and image scoring. For image analysis, we used a two-step enhanced watershed method to extract cellular boundaries from HCS images. Segmented cells were classified into several predefined phenotypes based on morphological and appearance features. Using statistical characteristics of the identified phenotypes as a quantitative description of the image, a score is generated that reflects gene function. Our scoring model integrates fuzzy gene class estimation and single regression models. The final functional score of an image was derived using the weighted combination of the inference from several support vector-based regression models. We validated our phenotype classification method and scoring system on our cellular phenotype and gene database with expert ground truth labeling.
We built a database of high-content, 3-channel, fluorescence microscopy images of Drosophila Kc167 cultured cells that were treated with RNAi to perturb gene function. The proposed informatics system for microscopy image analysis is tested on this database. Both of the two main components, automated phenotype classification and image scoring system, were evaluated. The robustness and efficiency of our system were validated in quantitatively predicting the biological relevance of genes.
High-content screening; Image score inference
The GenomeRNAi database (http://www.genomernai.org/) contains phenotypes from published cell-based RNA interference (RNAi) screens in Drosophila and Homo sapiens. The database connects observed phenotypes with annotations of targeted genes and information about the RNAi reagent used for the perturbation experiment. The availability of phenotypes from Drosophila and human screens also allows for phenotype searches across species. Besides reporting quantitative data from genome-scale screens, the new release of GenomeRNAi also enables reporting of data from microscopy experiments and curated phenotypes from published screens. In addition, the database provides an updated resource of RNAi reagents and their predicted quality that are available for the Drosophila and the human genome. The new version also facilitates the integration with other genomic data sets and contains expression profiling (RNA-Seq) data for several cell lines commonly used in RNAi experiments.
High-throughput genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screening is emerging as an essential tool to assist biologists in understanding complex cellular processes. The large number of images produced in each study make manual analysis intractable; hence, automatic cellular image analysis becomes an urgent need, where segmentation is the first and one of the most important steps. In this paper, a fully automatic method for segmentation of cells from genome-wide RNAi screening images is proposed. Nuclei are first extracted from the DNA channel by using a modified watershed algorithm. Cells are then extracted by modeling the interaction between them as well as combining both gradient and region information in the Actin and Rac channels. A new energy functional is formulated based on a novel interaction model for segmenting tightly clustered cells with significant intensity variance and specific phenotypes. The energy functional is minimized by using a multiphase level set method, which leads to a highly effective cell segmentation method. Promising experimental results demonstrate that automatic segmentation of high-throughput genome-wide multichannel screening can be achieved by using the proposed method, which may also be extended to other multichannel image segmentation problems.
Fluorescent microscopy; high throughput; image segmentation; interaction model; level set; multichannel
The majority of new drug approvals for cancer are based on existing therapeutic targets. One approach to the identification of novel targets is to perform high-throughput RNA interference (RNAi) cellular viability screens. We describe a novel approach combining RNAi screening in multiple cell lines with gene expression and genomic profiling to identify novel cancer targets. We performed parallel RNAi screens in multiple cancer cell lines to identify genes that are essential for viability in some cell lines but not others, suggesting that these genes constitute key drivers of cellular survival in specific cancer cells. This approach was verified by the identification of PIK3CA, silencing of which was selectively lethal to the MCF7 cell line, which harbours an activating oncogenic PIK3CA mutation. We combined our functional RNAi approach with gene expression and genomic analysis, allowing the identification of several novel kinases, including WEE1, that are essential for viability only in cell lines that have an elevated level of expression of this kinase. Furthermore, we identified a subset of breast tumours that highly express WEE1 suggesting that WEE1 could be a novel therapeutic target in breast cancer. In conclusion, this strategy represents a novel and effective strategy for the identification of functionally important therapeutic targets in cancer.
Microscopy has been instrumental in the discovery and characterization of microorganisms. Major advances in high-throughput fluorescence microscopy and automated, high-content image analysis tools are paving the way to the systematic and quantitative study of the molecular properties of cellular systems, both at the population and at the single-cell level. High-Content Imaging (HCI) has been used to characterize host-virus interactions in genome-wide reverse genetic screens and to identify novel cellular factors implicated in the binding, entry, replication and egress of several pathogenic viruses. Here we present an overview of the most significant applications of HCI in the context of the cell biology of filovirus infection. HCI assays have been recently implemented to quantitatively study filoviruses in cell culture, employing either infectious viruses in a BSL-4 environment or surrogate genetic systems in a BSL-2 environment. These assays are becoming instrumental for small molecule and siRNA screens aimed at the discovery of both cellular therapeutic targets and of compounds with anti-viral properties. We discuss the current practical constraints limiting the implementation of high-throughput biology in a BSL-4 environment, and propose possible solutions to safely perform high-content, high-throughput filovirus infection assays. Finally, we discuss possible novel applications of HCI in the context of filovirus research with particular emphasis on the identification of possible cellular biomarkers of virus infection.
filoviruses; High-Content Imaging; therapeutics; host-pathogen interactions; phenotype
Targeted gene silencing by RNA interference allows the study of gene function in plants and animals. In cell culture and small animal models, genetic screens can be performed—even tissue-specifically in Drosophila—with genome-wide RNAi libraries. However, a major problem with the use of RNAi approaches is the unavoidable false-positive error caused by off-target effects. Until now, this is minimized by computational RNAi design, comparing RNAi to the mutant phenotype if known, and rescue with a presumed ortholog. The ultimate proof of specificity would be to restore expression of the same gene product in vivo. Here, we present a simple and efficient method to rescue the RNAi-mediated knockdown of two independent genes in Drosophila. By exploiting the degenerate genetic code, we generated Drosophila
RNAi Escape Strategy Construct (RESC) rescue proteins containing frequent silent mismatches in the complete RNAi target sequence. RESC products were no longer efficiently silenced by RNAi in cell culture and in vivo. As a proof of principle, we rescue the RNAi-induced loss of function phenotype of the eye color gene white and tracheal defects caused by the knockdown of the heparan sulfate proteoglycan syndecan. Our data suggest that RESC is widely applicable to rescue and validate ubiquitous or tissue-specific RNAi and to perform protein structure–function analysis.
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.
Niemann-Pick C disease (NPC) is a lysosomal storage disorder causing abnormal accumulation of unesterified free cholesterol in lysosomal storage organelles. High content phenotypic microscopy chemical screens in both human and hamster NPC-deficient cells have identified several compounds that partially revert the NPC phenotype. Cell biological and biochemical studies show that several of these molecules inhibit lysosomal acid lipase, the enzyme that hydrolyzes LDL-derived triacylglycerol and cholesteryl esters. The effects of reduced lysosomal acid lipase activity in lowering cholesterol accumulation in NPC mutant cells were verified by RNAi-mediated knockdown of lysosomal acid lipase in NPC1-deficient human fibroblasts. This work demonstrates the utility of phenotypic cellular screens as a means to identify molecular targets for altering a complex process such as intracellular cholesterol trafficking and metabolism.
cholesterol accumulation; lysosomal storage organelles; lysosomal acid lipase; orlistat; NPC
Large-scale RNAi-based screens are playing a critical role in defining sets of genes that regulate specific cellular processes. Numerous screens have been completed and in some cases more than one screen has examined the same cellular process, enabling a direct comparison of the genes identified in separate screens. Surprisingly, the overlap observed between the results of similar screens is low, suggesting that RNAi screens have relatively high levels of false positives, false negatives, or both.
We re-examined genes that were identified in two previous RNAi-based cell cycle screens to identify potential false positives and false negatives. We were able to confirm many of the originally observed phenotypes and to reveal many likely false positives. To identify potential false negatives from the previous screens, we used protein interaction networks to select genes for re-screening. We demonstrate cell cycle phenotypes for a significant number of these genes and show that the protein interaction network is an efficient predictor of new cell cycle regulators. Combining our results with the results of the previous screens identified a group of validated, high-confidence cell cycle/cell survival regulators. Examination of the subset of genes from this group that regulate the G1/S cell cycle transition revealed the presence of multiple members of three structurally related protein complexes: the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 3 (eIF3) complex, the COP9 signalosome, and the proteasome lid. Using a combinatorial RNAi approach, we show that while all three of these complexes are required for Cdk2/Cyclin E activity, the eIF3 complex is specifically required for some other step that limits the G1/S cell cycle transition.
Our results show that false positives and false negatives each play a significant role in the lack of overlap that is observed between similar large-scale RNAi-based screens. Our results also show that protein network data can be used to minimize false negatives and false positives and to more efficiently identify comprehensive sets of regulators for a process. Finally, our data provides a high confidence set of genes that are likely to play key roles in regulating the cell cycle or cell survival.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a modality in which small double-stranded RNA molecules (siRNAs) designed to lead to the degradation of specific mRNAs are introduced into cells or organisms. siRNA libraries have been developed in which siRNAs targeting virtually every gene in the human genome are designed, synthesized and are presented for introduction into cells by transfection in a microtiter plate array. These siRNAs can then be transfected into cells using high-throughput screening (HTS) methodologies. The goal of RNAi HTS is to identify a set of siRNAs that inhibit or activate defined cellular phenotypes. The commonly used analysis methods including median ± kMAD have issues about error rates in multiple hypothesis testing and plate-wise versus experiment-wise analysis. We propose a methodology based on a Bayesian framework to address these issues. Our approach allows for sharing of information across plates in a plate-wise analysis, which obviates the need for choosing either a plate-wise or experimental-wise analysis. The proposed approach incorporates information from reliable controls to achieve a higher power and a balance between the contribution from the samples and control wells. Our approach provides false discovery rate (FDR) control to address multiple testing issues and it is robust to outliers.
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.
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.
The diversity of metazoan cell shapes is influenced by the dynamic cytoskeletal network. With the advent of RNA-interference (RNAi) technology, it is now possible to screen systematically for genes controlling specific cell-biological processes, including those required to generate distinct morphologies.
We adapted existing RNAi technology in Drosophila cell culture for use in high-throughput screens to enable a comprehensive genetic dissection of cell morphogenesis. To identify genes responsible for the characteristic shape of two morphologically distinct cell lines, we performed RNAi screens in each line with a set of double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) targeting 994 predicted cell shape regulators. Using automated fluorescence microscopy to visualize actin filaments, microtubules and DNA, we detected morphological phenotypes for 160 genes, one-third of which have not been previously characterized in vivo. Genes with similar phenotypes corresponded to known components of pathways controlling cytoskeletal organization and cell shape, leading us to propose similar functions for previously uncharacterized genes. Furthermore, we were able to uncover genes acting within a specific pathway using a co-RNAi screen to identify dsRNA suppressors of a cell shape change induced by Pten dsRNA.
Using RNAi, we identified genes that influence cytoskeletal organization and morphology in two distinct cell types. Some genes exhibited similar RNAi phenotypes in both cell types, while others appeared to have cell-type-specific functions, in part reflecting the different mechanisms used to generate a round or a flat cell morphology.
High Content Screening (HCS) platforms allow screening living cells under a wide range of experimental conditions and give access to a whole panel of cellular responses to a specific treatment. The outcome is a series of cell population images. Within these images, the heterogeneity of cellular response to the same treatment leads to a whole range of observed values for the recorded cellular features. Consequently, it is difficult to compare and interpret experiments. Moreover, the definition of phenotypic classes at a cell population level remains an open question, although this would ease experiments analyses. In the present work, we tackle these two questions. The input of the method is a series of cell population images for which segmentation and cellular phenotype classification has already been performed. We propose a probabilistic model to represent and later compare cell populations. The model is able to fully exploit the HCS-specific information: “dependence structure of population descriptors” and “within-population variability”. The experiments we carried out illustrate how our model accounts for this specific information, as well as the fact that the model benefits from considering them. We underline that these features allow richer HCS data analysis than simpler methods based on single cellular feature values averaged over each well. We validate an HCS data analysis method based on control experiments. It accounts for HCS specificities that were not taken into account by previous methods but have a sound biological meaning. Biological validation of previously unknown outputs of the method constitutes a future line of work.
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.
RNA-mediated interference (RNAi)-based functional genomics is a systems-level approach to identify novel genes that control biological phenotypes. Existing computational approaches can identify individual genes from RNAi datasets that regulate a given biological process. However, currently available methods cannot identify which RNAi screen "hits" are novel components of well-characterized biological pathways known to regulate the interrogated phenotype. In this study, we describe a method to identify genes from RNAi datasets that are novel components of known biological pathways. We experimentally validate our approach in the context of a recently completed RNAi screen to identify novel regulators of melanogenesis.
In this study, we utilize a PPI network topology-based approach to identify targets within our RNAi dataset that may be components of known melanogenesis regulatory pathways. Our computational approach identifies a set of screen targets that cluster topologically in a human PPI network with the known pigment regulator Endothelin receptor type B (EDNRB). Validation studies reveal that these genes impact pigment production and EDNRB signaling in pigmented melanoma cells (MNT-1) and normal melanocytes.
We present an approach that identifies novel components of well-characterized biological pathways from functional genomics datasets that could not have been identified by existing statistical and computational approaches.
Gene silencing using RNA interference (RNAi) has become a prominent biological tool for gene annotation, pathway analysis, and target discovery in mammalian cells. High-throughput screens conducted using whole-genome siRNA libraries have uncovered rich sets of new genes involved in a variety of biological processes and cellular models of disease. However, high-throughput RNAi screening is not yet a mainstream tool in life science research because current screening platforms are expensive and onerous. Miniaturizing the RNAi screening platform to reduce cost and increase throughput will enable its widespread use and harness its potential for rapid genome annotation. With this aim, we have combined semi-conductor microfabrication and nanolitre dispensing techniques to develop miniaturized electroporation-ready microwell arrays loaded with siRNA molecules in which multiplexed gene knockdown can be achieved. Arrays of microwells are created using high-aspect ratio biocompatible photoresists on optically transparent and conductive Indium-Tin Oxide (ITO) substrates with integrated micro-electrodes to enable in situ electroporation. Non-contact inkjet microarraying allows precise dispensing of nanolitre volumes into the microwell structures. We have achieved parallel electroporation of multiple mammalian cells cultured in these microwell arrays and observed efficient knockdown of genes with surface-bound, printed siRNAs. Further integration of microfabrication and non-contact nanolitre dispensing techniques described here may enable single-substrate whole-genome siRNA screening in mammalian cells.
Systems biology aims to describe the complex interplays between cellular building blocks which, in their concurrence, give rise to the emergent properties observed in cellular behaviors and responses. This approach tries to determine the molecular players and the architectural principles of their interactions within the genetic networks that control certain biological processes. Large-scale loss-of-function screens, applicable in various different model systems, have begun to systematically interrogate entire genomes to identify the genes that contribute to a certain cellular response. In particular, RNA interference (RNAi)-based high-throughput screens have been instrumental in determining the composition of regulatory systems and paired with integrative data analyses have begun to delineate the genetic networks that control cell biological and developmental processes. Through the creation of tools for both, in vitro and in vivo genome-wide RNAi screens, Drosophila melanogaster has emerged as one of the key model organisms in systems biology research and over the last years has massively contributed to and hence shaped this discipline.