Kinetic assay of starvation sensitivity in yeast autophagy mutants allows for the identification of intermediary phenotypes
A classical method to quantitatively determine the starvation sensitivity phenotype of autophagy mutant budding yeast strains is to starve them for a period of time and then to assess the proportion of cells that retain the ability to form colonies when the availability of nutrients is restored. The readout of this colony-formation assay is generally evaluated after a fixed period of time following the restoration of nutrients, so that it can be considered an endpoint assay. One drawback we have identified is the inability to characterize subtle intermediary phenotypes that are detectable at the molecular level but fail to reach statistical significance in the colony formation experiment. We set out to determine whether a more dynamic measurement of growth during recovery after starvation would increase the sensitivity with which we are able to detect partial loss-of-function phenotypes.
We describe a 96-well plate-based assay to kinetically assess starvation sensitivity in budding yeast that allows for the quantitative detection of very modest starvation sensitivity phenotypes with statistical significance in autophagy mutant yeast strains lacking the ATG27 gene.
KeywordsStarvation sensitivity 96-well plate assay High-throughput starvation sensitivity assay Autophagy Budding yeast Atg27
- ATG genes
- Atg proteins
synthetic dextrose medium without ammonium sulfate or nitrogen source
yeast rich medium: yeast extract, peptone, and dextrose
Starvation sensitivity in yeast is classically scored using an assay that starves cells for a desired period of time for the nutrient of interest (usually carbon or nitrogen source) and then plates these starved cells on nutrient-containing medium to determine how many of them have remained viable and retained the ability to form colonies [1, 2]. This colony formation assay is often used to determine the degree of starvation sensitivity of yeast macroautophagy mutants .
Macroautophagy, herein referred to as autophagy, is a catabolic process of cellular self-eating that allows eukaryotic cells to recycle nutrients and sustain essential metabolic processes during periods of stress, such as starvation . Upon induction of autophagy, specialized large double-bilayered autophagic vesicles called autophagosomes non-specifically sequester cytoplasmic materials and fuse with the degradative organelle of the cell. In yeast, autophagosomes deliver the sequestered cytoplasmic components to the lumen of the vacuole for degradation and recycling . Vacuolar membrane proteins then mediate the efflux of the nutrients that are generated through the recycling of these degraded components . This overall cellular process is brought about by a group of proteins known as the Autophagy-related proteins or Atg proteins. Mutations of the ATG genes coding for these proteins result in autophagic phenotypes such as starvation-sensitivity. Some of the classical cellular assays to probe yeast autophagy mutants for starvation-sensitivity ultimately assess viability on plates or microscopically using vital dyes .
Individual ATG gene mutants exhibit characteristic degrees of starvation sensitivity depending on the role played by the encoded Atg protein in the process of autophagy. For example, while deletion of the ATG1 gene (atg1Δ) leads to a complete autophagy phenotype that renders the cell unable to induce autophagy [4, 5], the atg27Δ mutation merely results in an autophagic flux delay [6, 7].
To fill this gap, we set out to design a 96-well plate-based assay to kinetically assess starvation sensitivity in budding yeast that quantitatively detects very modest starvation sensitivity phenotypes with statistical significance in autophagy mutant yeast strains lacking the ATG27 gene. Similar strategies have been reported by others to increase quantitative detection of drug sensitivity in yeast .
The strains used in this study were obtained from Professor S. Lemmon (Department of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, USA) and their provenance and construction was previously described in detail by Segarra et al. and others [7, 10]. The genotype of these strains is as follows: wild type or WT (MATα leu2 ura3-52 trp1 his3-Δ200), atg27Δ (MATα leu2 ura3-52 trp1 his3-Δ200 atg27Δ::HISMX6), and atg1Δ (MATα leu2 ura3-52 trp1 his3-Δ200 atg1Δ::NATMX6).
Yeast media and growth
Standard yeast media and growth conditions were used in all experiments . The medium used to starve cells for nitrogen and induce autophagy was SD-N, consisting of 0.17% yeast nitrogen base without ammonium sulfate and amino acids, and 2% glucose .
Serial dilution assays
Serial dilution assays were set up using a slightly modified version of a previously described protocol . Briefly, liquid cultures of the yeast of interest were first inoculated and grown to saturation in rich medium (YEPD). Cells were then diluted to an OD600 of 0.5, and serial dilutions of 1:10 were spotted on the appropriate solid agar plates before and after nitrogen starvation.
Colony formation assays
Kinetic or growth curve assays
Growth curve assays to assess starvation sensitivity were performed using a modified version of a previously described protocol . Liquid cultures of the yeast strains of interest were inoculated and grown to saturation in rich medium (YEPD). Cultures were then diluted to an OD600 of 0.5 before washing twice and transferring to SD-N starvation medium. At the desired starvation time points (including as a reference or control time point 0 for no starvation), aliquots of the culture of interest were taken and diluted serially (1:10) in rich or complete medium. This provided back nutrients at the indicated time points on a 96-well plate, accommodating 4 technical replicates of each of the three strains tested per dilution per experiment. An absorbance microplate reader (BioTek) was used to track yeast growth at 30 °C in each well of the 96-well plate by measuring OD600 every 30 min over a 40-h time period.
Serial dilution and colony formation assays were initially used to measure starvation sensitivity (Fig. 1). The WT and atg27Δ strains were indistinguishable from one another despite published biochemical evidence that atg27Δ strains exhibit autophagic marker processing and autophagosome formation defects at the molecular level [6, 7]. As expected, the serial dilution and colony formation assays successfully detected a starvation-sensitivity phenotype for the atg1Δ control (Fig. 1).
In this report, we describe a 96-well plate-based assay to kinetically assess starvation-sensitivity in budding yeast, allowing for the quantitative detection of very modest phenotypes with statistical significance. We tested this method using strains lacking the ATG27 gene and exhibiting a modest defect in autophagy. While atg27Δ cells following nitrogen starvation appeared equivalent to their wild-type counterparts in traditional colony formation and serial dilution assays (Fig. 1), the kinetic assay detected a subtle but statistically significant defect. This phenotype was consistent with published biochemical evidence that atg27Δ strains exhibit diminished autophagic flux [6, 7]. A specific advantage of the kinetic approach was that differences between the WT and mutant strains were most apparent and statistically significant within a narrow range of time points along the growth curve, yet indistinguishable at later time points when control and experimental strains began to reach saturation and slow down (Additional file 1: Table S1). Subtle phenotypes such as this one might be ideally detected in a dynamic assay rather than in an endpoint assay. We note the increasingly widespread use of technologies that support and monitor cellular growth over time in a dynamic way, including in yeast applications such as drug sensitivity screening . We propose that this trend will benefit both low and high throughput studies by detecting a broader spectrum of phenotypes ranging from strong to intermediary.
The experiments described in this manuscript assay cells for their ability to proliferate and grow to contribute to colony formation or an increase in OD600 as a function of time, not for whether cells are alive or dead. It is well known that upon starvation for nutrients like nitrogen, cells arrest in a G1/G0 quiescent state . It is possible that specific mutants could fail to exit this G1/G0 state and therefore be rendered unable to resume proliferation when nutrients are replenished. If this is the case with a particular mutant of interest, the assays described here would fail to assess accurately the viability of cells after starvation.
The authors would like to thank Sarah Edmark for assistance with some of the protocol development.
VAS conceived and designed the study. All authors (CMS, MCP, MR, DCC, MAT, AUK and VAS) contributed to data collection as well as to the writing and revision of this manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors thank the Department of Biology at High Point University (HPU) (17-065) for internal resources and funding. Additional support was provided by HPU through Summer Undergraduate Research Program fellowships to CMS, MCP, and DCC and a University Research Advancement Grant to VAS. These HPU internal funding mechanisms supported the design of the study, collection and interpretation of data, and manuscript preparation.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
Consent for publication
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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