In Vivo Functional Study of Disease-associated Rare Human Variants using Drosophila

* These authors contributed equally
This article has been accepted and is currently in production

Abstract

Advances in sequencing technology have made whole-genome and whole-exome datasets more accessible for both clinical diagnosis and cutting-edge human genetics research. Although a number of in silico algorithms have been developed to predict the pathogenicity of variants identified in these datasets, functional studies are critical to determining how specific genomic variants affect protein function, especially for missense variants. In the Undiagnosed Diseases Network (UDN) and other rare disease research consortia, model organisms (MO) including Drosophila, C. elegans, zebrafish, and mice are actively used to assess the function of putative human disease-causing variants. This protocol describes a method for the functional assessment of rare human variants used in the Model Organisms Screening Center Drosophila Core of the UDN. The workflow begins with gathering human and MO information from multiple public databases, using the MARRVEL web resource to assess whether the variant is likely to contribute to a patient's condition as well as design effective experiments based on available knowledge and resources. Next, genetic tools (e.g., T2A-GAL4 and UAS-human cDNA lines) are generated to assess the functions of variants of interest in Drosophila. Upon development of these reagents, two-pronged functional assays based on rescue and overexpression experiments can be performed to assess variant function. In the rescue branch, the endogenous fly genes are "humanized" by replacing the orthologous Drosophila gene with reference or variant human transgenes. In the overexpression branch, the reference and variant human proteins are exogenously driven in a variety of tissues. In both cases, any scorable phenotype (e.g., lethality, eye morphology, electrophysiology) can be used as a read-out, irrespective of the disease of interest. Differences observed between reference and variant alleles suggest a variant-specific effect, and thus likely pathogenicity. This protocol allows rapid, in vivo assessments of putative human disease-causing variants of genes with known and unknown functions.