Identification of novel inhibitors of heterochromatin integrity through a chemical screen in fission yeast
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Heterochromatin assembly in fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe) requires conserved components that mediate RNA interference (RNAi) directed methylation of histone H3 on lysine 9 (H3K9). Fission yeast heterochromatin is mainly found at centromeres, telomeres, and the mating-type locus. At centromeres, transcripts from repetitive elements are processed to siRNAs and RNAi promotes chromatin modification by recruiting the Clr4 methyltransferase. RNAi is not required to maintain silent chromatin at the mating-type locus. This RNAi-directed form of centromeric heterochromatin provides an ideal system for in vivo screening to allow the identification of compounds that inhibit the activity of proteins involved in RNA silencing, chromatin modification and heterochromatin assembly in fission yeast and may inhibit conserved proteins in other organisms. A dominant selectable marker gene system at fission yeast centromeres that reports loss of heterochromatin integrity by increased resistance to G418 in 96-well plate format liquid cultures was developed. The resulting strain was used to screen a nontargeted chemically diverse compound library in vivo to identify compounds that disrupt the integrity of RNAi-directed heterochromatin. Two compounds, Emi1 and Emi14, were identified and found to cause a significant decrease in the level of H3K9 methylation on the outer repeats at fission yeast centromeres. Growth in the presence of Emi1 or Emi14 also caused a reduction in H3K9 methylation levels at the mating-type locus, suggesting that they do not act through RNAi. Consistent with this, Emi1 and Emi14 did not cause a decrease in centromeric siRNA levels. Analyses therefore suggest that Emi1 and Emi14 do not disrupt RNAi but that they inhibit downstream events in chromatin modification and heterochromatin assembly. Cells lacking RNAi due to loss of Dicer (dcr1Δ) or cells lacking the histone deacetylase (HDAC) Sir2 (sir2Δ) retain significant but lower levels of H3K9 methylation on the centromeric outer repeats. When dcr1Δ or sir2Δ cells were grown in the presence of Emi1 or Emi14 a further reduction in H3K9 methylation levels was observed on the outer repeats. This mimics the effect of combining clr3Δ with dcr1Δ or sir2Δ and suggests that Emi1 and Emi14 may interfere with SHREC function. SHREC is a chromatin remodelling complex that includes the HDAC Clr3 and the chromatin remodeler Mit1 and is known to contribute to heterochromatin integrity. Expression profiling performed on Emi1 and Emi14 treated cells confirmed the previous results. The changes in gene expression following Emi1 and Emi14 treatment were compared to known mutants defective in heterochromatin integrity. The profile of expression changes following Emi14 treatment was found to correlate with alterations in the expression pattern observed in cells with SHREC components deleted. No correlation with mutants lacking other HDACs or RNAi components was detected. Emi1 had a weaker correlation with defective SHREC function and thus may also partially inhibit the SHREC complex. Murine erythroleukemia (MEL) cells harbouring a silenced eGFP reporter transgene were used to assess whether Emi1 and Emi14 also affect silencing in mammalian cells. Emi1 was found to disrupt silencing at the eGFP reporter and this correlated with a decrease in H3K9 methylation. Structurally related analogues of Emi1 and Emi14 were selected and tested in the fission yeast assay. Interpretation of the obtained structure-activity relationships allowed identification of the chemical moieties key to Emi1 and Emi14 activity. Overall, an approach was developed to identify two novel small molecule inhibitors of a well-characterized chromatin modification pathway. The SHREC complex was identified as the putative target of these two compounds and structurally related active analogues were identified for them. Importantly, one of the compounds was also active in mammalian cells, highlighting the usefulness of this approach in identifying compounds that affect higher organisms.