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An RNAi-mediated screen identifies novel targets for next-generation antiepileptic drugs based on increased expression of the homeostatic regulator pumilio

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journal contribution
posted on 04.06.2018, 09:58 by Wei-Hsiang Lin, Miaomiao He, Yuen Ngan Fan, Richard A. Baines

Despite availability of a diverse range of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), only about two-thirds of epilepsy patients respond well to drug treatment. Thus, novel targets are required to catalyse the design of next-generation AEDs. Manipulation of neuron firing-rate homoeostasis, through enhancing Pumilio (Pum) activity, has been shown to be potently anticonvulsant in Drosophila. In this study, we performed a genome-wide RNAi screen in S2R + cells, using a luciferase-based dPum activity reporter and identified 1166 genes involved in dPum regulation. Of these genes, we focused on 699 genes that, on knock-down, potentiate dPum activity/expression. Of this subgroup, 101 genes are activity-dependent based on comparison with genes previously identified as activity-dependent by RNA-sequencing. Functional cluster analysis shows these genes are enriched in pathways involved in DNA damage, regulation of cell cycle and proteasomal protein catabolism. To test for anticonvulsant activity, we utilised an RNA-interference approach in vivo. RNAi-mediated knockdown showed that 57/101 genes (61%) are sufficient to significantly reduce seizure duration in the characterized seizure mutant, parabss. We further show that chemical inhibitors of protein products of some of the genes targeted are similarly anticonvulsant. Finally, to establish whether the anticonvulsant activity of identified compounds results from increased dpum transcription, we performed a luciferase-based assay to monitor dpum promoter activity. Third instar larvae exposed to sodium fluoride, gemcitabine, metformin, bestatin, WP1066 or valproic acid all showed increased dpum promoter activity. Thus, this study validates Pum as a favourable target for AED design and, moreover, identifies a number of lead compounds capable of increasing the expression of this homeostatic regulator.


Work reported in this study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council UK [grant BB/L027690/1 awarded to RAB]. Work on this project also benefited from the Manchester Fly Facility, established through funds from the University of Manchester and the Wellcome Trust UK [087742/Z/08/Z]. The RNAi library and reagents provided by the RNAi Screening Facility of University of Sheffield was supported by the Wellcome Trust [grant reference number 084757].