An engineered transcriptional reporter of protein localization identifies regulators of mitochondrial and ER membrane protein trafficking in high-throughput screens
The trafficking of specific protein cohorts to the correct subcellular location at the correct time is essential for every signaling and regulatory process in biology. Gene perturbation screens could provide a powerful approach to probe the molecular mechanisms of protein trafficking, but only if protein localization or mislocalization can be tied to a simple and robust phenotype for cell selection, such as cell proliferation or FACS. To broadly empower the study of protein trafficking processes with gene perturbation, we developed a genetically-encoded molecular tool named HiLITR. HiLITR converts protein colocalization into proteolytic release of a membrane-anchored transcription factor, which drives the expression of a chosen reporter gene. Using HiLITR in combination with FACS-based CRISPRi screening in human cell lines, we identify genes that influence the trafficking of mitochondrial and ER tail-anchored proteins. We show that loss of the SUMO E1 component SAE1 results in the mislocalization and destabilization of mitochondrial tail-anchored proteins. We also demonstrate a distinct regulatory role for EMC10 in the ER membrane complex, opposing the transmembrane-domain insertion activity of the complex. Through transcriptional integration of complex cellular functions, HiLITR expands the scope of biological processes that can be studied by genetic perturbation screening technologies.
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