Genome-Wide CRISPR Screen Identifies Noncanonical NF-κB Signaling as a Regulator of Epithelial Homeostasis
Epithelial cells possess intrinsic mechanisms to maintain an appropriate cell density for normal tissue morphogenesis and homeostasis. Defects in such mechanisms likely contribute to hyperplasia and cancer initiation. To identify genes that regulate the density-dependent proliferation of murine mammary epithelial cells, we developed a fluorescence-activated cell sorting assay based on fluorescence ubiquitination cell cycle indicator, which marks different stages of the cell cycle with distinct fluorophores. Using this powerful assay, we performed a genome-wide CRISPR/Cas9 knockout screen, selecting for cells that proliferate normally at low density but continue to divide at high density. Unexpectedly, one top hit was Traf3, a negative regulator of NF-κB signaling that has never previously been linked to density-dependent proliferation. We demonstrate that loss of Traf3 specifically activates noncanonical NF-κB signaling. This in turn triggers an innate immune response and drives cell division independently of known density-dependent proliferation mechanisms, including YAP/TAZ signaling and cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors, by blocking entry into quiescence.