Background: Cell migration is essential during development and in human disease progression including cancer. Most cell migration studies concentrate on known or predicted components of migration pathways.
Results: Here we use data from a genome-wide RNAi morphology screen in Drosophila melanogaster cells together with bioinformatics to identify 26 new regulators of morphology and cytoskeletal organization in human cells. These include genes previously implicated in a wide range of functions, from mental retardation, Down syndrome and Huntington's disease to RNA and DNA-binding genes. We classify these genes into seven groups according to phenotype and identify those that affect cell migration. We further characterize a subset of seven genes, FAM40A, FAM40B, ARC, FMNL3, FNBP3/FBP11, LIMD1 and ZRANB1, each of which has a different effect on cell shape, actin filament distribution and cell migration. Interestingly, in several instances closely related isoforms with a single Drosophila homologue have distinct phenotypes. For example, FAM40B depletion induces cell elongation and tail retraction defects, whereas FAM40A depletion reduces cell spreading.
Conclusions: Our results identify multiple regulators of cell migration and cytoskeletal signalling that are highly conserved between Drosophila and humans, and show that closely related paralogues can have very different functions in these processes.