Characterization and Optimization of the CRISPR/Cas System for Applications in Genome Engineering
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CitationLin, ChieYu. 2014. Characterization and Optimization of the CRISPR/Cas System for Applications in Genome Engineering. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Medical School.
AbstractThe ability to precisely manipulate the genome in a targeted manner is fundamental to driving both basic science research and development of medical therapeutics. Until recently, this has been primarily achieved through coupling of a nuclease domain with customizable protein modules that recognize DNA in a sequence-specific manner such as zinc finger or transcription activator-like effector domains. Though these approaches have allowed unprecedented precision in manipulating the genome, in practice they have been limited by the reproducibility, predictability, and specificity of targeted cleavage, all of which are partially attributable to the nature of protein-mediated DNA sequence recognition. It has been recently shown that the microbial CRISPR-Cas system can be adapted for eukaryotic genome editing. Cas9, an RNA-guided DNA endonuclease, is directed by a 20-nt guide sequence via Watson-Crick base-pairing to its genomic target. Cas9 subsequently induces a double-stranded DNA break that results in targeted gene disruption through non-homologous end-joining repair or gene replacement via homologous recombination. Finally, the RNA guide and protein nuclease dual component system allows simultaneous delivery of multiple guide RNAs (sgRNA) to achieve multiplex genome editing with ease and efficiency.
The potential effects of off-target genomic modification represent a significant caveat to genome editing approaches in both research and therapeutic applications. Prior work from our lab and others has shown that Cas9 can tolerate some degree of mismatch with the guide RNA to target DNA base pairing. To increase substrate specificity, we devised a technique that uses a Cas9 nickase mutant with appropriately paired guide RNAs to efficiently inducing double-stranded breaks via simultaneous nicks on both strands of target DNA. As single-stranded nicks are repaired with high fidelity, targeted genome modification only occurs when the two opposite-strand nicks are closely spaced. This double nickase approach allows for marked reduction of off-target genome modification while maintaining robust on-target cleavage efficiency, making a significant step towards addressing one of the primary concerns regarding the use of genome editing technologies.
The ability to multiplex genome engineering by simply co-delivering multiple sgRNAs is a versatile property unique to the CRISPR-Cas system. While co-transfection of multiple guides is readily feasible in tissue culture, many in vivo and therapeutic applications would benefit from a compact, single vector system that would allow robust and reproducible multiplex editing. To achieve this, we first generated and functionally validated alternate sgRNA architectures to characterize the structure-function relationship of the Cas9 protein with the sgRNA in DNA recognition and cleavage. We then applied this knowledge towards the development and optimization of a tandem synthetic guide RNA (tsgRNA) scaffold that allows for a single promoter to drive expression of a single RNA transcript encoding two sgRNAs, which are subsequently processed into individual active sgRNAs.
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