Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Large-scale functional RNAi screen in C. elegans identifies genes that regulate the dysfunction of mutant polyglutamine neurons

François-Xavier Lejeune1, Lilia Mesrob1, Frédéric Parmentier1, Cedric Bicep12, Rafael P Vazquez-Manrique12, J Alex Parker123, Jean-Philippe Vert456, Cendrine Tourette127 and Christian Neri12*

Author Affiliations

1 INSERM, Unit 894, Laboratory of Neuronal Cell Biology and Pathology, 75014 Paris, France

2 University of Paris Descartes, EA 4059, 75014 Paris, France

3 Université de Montreal, CRCHUM Centre d'excellence en neuromique, Hôpital Notre-Dame, Montreal, QC,H2W 1T8 Canada

4 Mines ParisTech, CBIO, Fontainebleau, 75006 Paris, France

5 Curie Institute, Research Center, 75005 Paris, France

6 INSERM, Unit 900, Paris, 75005 France

7 Buck Institute, Novato, CA 94945, USA

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:91  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-91

Published: 13 March 2012



A central goal in Huntington's disease (HD) research is to identify and prioritize candidate targets for neuroprotective intervention, which requires genome-scale information on the modifiers of early-stage neuron injury in HD.


Here, we performed a large-scale RNA interference screen in C. elegans strains that express N-terminal huntingtin (htt) in touch receptor neurons. These neurons control the response to light touch. Their function is strongly impaired by expanded polyglutamines (128Q) as shown by the nearly complete loss of touch response in adult animals, providing an in vivo model in which to manipulate the early phases of expanded-polyQ neurotoxicity. In total, 6034 genes were examined, revealing 662 gene inactivations that either reduce or aggravate defective touch response in 128Q animals. Several genes were previously implicated in HD or neurodegenerative disease, suggesting that this screen has effectively identified candidate targets for HD. Network-based analysis emphasized a subset of high-confidence modifier genes in pathways of interest in HD including metabolic, neurodevelopmental and pro-survival pathways. Finally, 49 modifiers of 128Q-neuron dysfunction that are dysregulated in the striatum of either R/2 or CHL2 HD mice, or both, were identified.


Collectively, these results highlight the relevance to HD pathogenesis, providing novel information on the potential therapeutic targets for neuroprotection in HD.