Discovering metabolic disease gene interactions by correlated effects on cellular morphology

Yang Jiao, Umer Ahmed, M.F. Michelle Sim, Andrea Bejar, Xiaolan Zhang, M. Mesbah Uddin Talukder, Robert Rice, Jason Flannick, Anna I. Podgornaia, Dermot F. Reilly, Jesse M. Engreitz, Maria Kost-Alimova, Kate Hartland, Josep-Maria Mercader, Sara Georges, Vilas Wagh, Marija Tadin-Strapps, John G. Doench, J. Michael Edwardson, Justin J. RochfordEvan D. Rosen, Amit R. Majithia (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Objective Impaired expansion of peripheral fat contributes to the pathogenesis of insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). We aimed to identify novel disease–gene interactions during adipocyte differentiation. Methods Genes in disease-associated loci for T2D, adiposity and insulin resistance were ranked according to expression in human adipocytes. The top 125 genes were ablated in human pre-adipocytes via CRISPR/CAS9 and the resulting cellular phenotypes quantified during adipocyte differentiation with high-content microscopy and automated image analysis. Morphometric measurements were extracted from all images and used to construct morphologic profiles for each gene. Results Over 107 morphometric measurements were obtained. Clustering of the morphologic profiles accross all genes revealed a group of 14 genes characterized by decreased lipid accumulation, and enriched for known lipodystrophy genes. For two lipodystrophy genes, BSCL2 and AGPAT2, sub-clusters with PLIN1 and CEBPA identifed by morphological similarity were validated by independent experiments as novel protein–protein and gene regulatory interactions. Conclusions A morphometric approach in adipocytes can resolve multiple cellular mechanisms for metabolic disease loci; this approach enables mechanistic interrogation of the hundreds of metabolic disease loci whose function still remains unknown.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-119
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Metabolism
Early online date13 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Supported by grants from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (1K08DK102877-01 to Dr. Majithia), the Merck-Broad adipocyte collaboration (to Dr. Majithia and Dr. Rosen), the Medical Research Council (MR/L002620/1 to Dr. Rochford), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/K017772/1 to Dr. Rochford), a Merit Scholarship from the Islamic Development Bank (to Dr. Talukder) and by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore (to Dr. Sim).


  • Gene discovery
  • Functional genomics
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Insulin resistance
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Genetic screen
  • High content imaging
  • Lipodystrophy


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