Development of a new screening system for the identification of RNF43-related genes and characterisation of other PA-RING family members.
The E3 ubiquitin ligase RNF43 (RING finger protein 43) is an important negative modulator of the WNT signalling pathway that acts at the plasma membrane by targeting Frizzled and its co-receptor LRP for degradation. In the small intestine, this prevents uncontrolled expansion of the stem cell compartment and so it is essential to the maintenance of normal tissue homeostasis. However, despite its crucial role in fine-tuning the WNT pathway and its role as a tumour suppressor, it is unclear whether RNF43 has further binding partners and what their functional relevance is to the modulation of WNT signalling. Here, I describe the development of a new screening strategy which combines CRISPR/Cas9 technology with 3D-intestinal organoid culture for the identification of novel molecular interactors of RNF43. Overall, this study and the technology developed provide a tool to enable the detailed description of the mechanism of action of RNF43, which is important not only in order to increase our understanding of WNT pathway regulation but also to gain potential new insights into RNF43 paralogs, by analogy. The investigation of paralogs is crucial as RNF43 belongs to a newly identified family of E3 ubiquitin ligases, named the PA-RING family, whose members are still poorly characterised. The majority of PA-RING family members have not been linked to any signalling pathway, most of their targets are still unknown and in many cases their in vivo function has not been addressed. In this context, my work has specifically focused on the investigation of the potential involvement of additional PA-RING family members in WNT pathway modulation and also on target identification for selected members. The results summarised in this dissertation show that no other PA-RING family member plays a prominent role in WNT pathway modulation aside from Rnf43 and its homologue Znrf3, however, different classes of adhesion molecules are likely to be regulated by certain of these E3 ligases. In conclusion, my work has contributed to unravelling previously unexplored aspects of this protein family, with particular regard to RNF43 and its mechanism of action. Thanks to this original approach, it was possible to identify potential new players involved either in membrane clearance of Frizzled or in RNF43 maturation. In particular, my thesis focuses on the characterisation of the role of DAAM in RNF43-mediated Frizzled internalisation.