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Exploring genetic interactions with G-quadruplex structures



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Mulhearn, Darcie Sinead 


G-quadruplexes are non-canonical nucleic acid secondary structures of increasing biological and medicinal interest due to their proposed physiological functions in transcription, replication, translation and telomere biology. Aberrant G4 formation and stabilisation have been linked to genome instability, cancer and other diseases. However, the specific genes and pathways involved are largely unknown, and the work within this thesis aims to investigate this. Stabilisation of G4s by small molecules can perturb G4-mediated processes and initial studies suggest that this approach has chemotherapeutic potential. I therefore also aimed to identify cell genotypes sensitive to G4-ligand treatment that may offer further therapeutic opportunities. To address these aims, I present the first unbiased genome-wide genetic screen in cells where genes were silenced via short-hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) whilst being treated with either PDS or PhenDC3, two independent G4-stabilising small molecules. I explored gene deficiencies that enhance cell death (sensitisation) or provide a growth advantage (resistance) in the presence of these G4-ligands. Additionally, I present a validation screen, comprising hits uncovered via genome-wide screening, and also the use of this in another cell line of different origin. Sensitivities were enriched in DNA replication, cell cycle, DNA damage repair, splicing and ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis proteins and pathways. Ultimately, I uncovered four synthetic lethalities BRCA1, TOP1, DDX42, GAR1, independent of cell line and ligand. These were validated with three G4-stabilising ligands (PDS, PhenDC3 and CX-5461) using an independent siRNA approach. The latter siRNA methodology was used to screen 12 PDS derivatives with improved medicinal chemistry properties and ultimately identified SA-100-128, as a lead compound. The mechanism behind synthetic lethality with G4-stabilising ligands was explored further for DDX42, which I show has in vitro affinity for both RNA- and DNA-G4s and may represent a previously unknown G4-helicase. Also within this thesis, gene deficiencies that provided a growth advantage to PDS and/or PhenDC3 as uncovered by genome-wide and focused screening were explored. These showed enrichment in transcription, chromatin and lysosome-associated genes. The resistance phenotype of three gene deficiencies, TAF1, DDX39A and ZNF217 was further supported by additional siRNA experiments. Overall, I satisfied the primary aims and established many novel synthetic lethal and resistance interactions that may represent new therapeutic possibilities. Additionally, the results expand our knowledge of G4-biology by identifying genes, functions and subcellular locations previously not known to involve or regulate G4s.





Balasubramanian, Shankar


synthetic lethality, G-quadruplex, secondary structures, shRNA screening, screening, RNAi, genomic instability, small molecule


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
funded by CRUK