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The use of high-throughput microscopy in the characterisation of phenotypes associated with the Unfolded Protein Response in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

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posted on 14.11.2021, 09:11 by Bircham, Peter William

Proteins traversing the secretory pathway begin their passage in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) where they must be correctly folded and processed to pass quality control measures. Complications with this process can result in the accumulation of misfolded proteins, commonly referred to as ER-stress, which has been associated with a number of diseases. The unfolded protein response (UPR) is the cell’s mechanism of dealing with ER-stress and is activated via the IRE1-HAC1 pathway in yeast. Ire1p is the ER-stress sensor and upon recognising misfolded proteins Ire1 oligomerises and forms local clusters. Activated Ire1p then splices out an inhibitory intron from the UPR specific transcription factor Hac1p which goes on to initiate downstream responses to alleviate ER-stress. Here we utilise high-throughput microscopy and UPR-specific GFP reporter systems to characterise the UPR in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. High-throughput microscopy and automated image analysis is increasingly being used as a screening tool for investigating genome-wide collections of yeast strains, including the yeast deletion mutant array and the yeast GFP collection. We describe the use of GFP labelled Ire1p to visualise cluster formation as a reporter for early UPR recognition of misfolded proteins, as well as a GFP controlled by a Hac1p responsive promoter to measure downstream UPR activation. These UPR-specific GFP reporter systems were used to screen a collection of non-essential gene deletion strains, identifying gene deletions that induce UPR activation and thus are likely to function in the early secretory pathway. This included well known components such as the ALG members of the glycosylation pathway and various ER chaperones such as LHS1 and SCJ1. Additionally this analysis revealed 44 previously uncharacterised genes, suggesting there are still processes related to the secretory pathway that are yet to be described. Moreover, by inducing ER-stress in this screening system we revealed genes required for the normal activation of the UPR including ribosomal/translation and chromatin/transcriptionally related genes, as well as various genes from throughout the secretory pathway. Furthermore, we screened a collection of ~4000 strains, each expressing a different GFP fusion protein, under ER-stress conditions to identify protein expression and localisation changes induced by the UPR. Comparison to UPR deficient Δhac1 cells uncovered a set of UPR specific targets including 26 novel UPR targets that had not been identified in previous studies measuring changes at the transcript level. As part of this work, we developed a dual red fluorescent protein system to label cells for automated image segmentation to enable single cell phenotype measurements. Here we describe the use of texture analysis as a means of increasing automation in the identification of phenotypic changes across the proteome. These novel techniques may be more widely applied to screening GFP collections to increase automation of image analysis, particularly as manual annotation of phenotypic changes is a major bottleneck in high-throughput screening. The results presented here from microscopy based screening compare well with other techniques in the literature, but also provide new information highlighting the synergistic effects of integrating high-throughput imaging into traditional screening methodologies.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Cell and Molecular Bioscience

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Atkinson, Paul; Maass, David