Background: Cre-loxP recombination refers to the process of site-specific recombination mediated by two loxP sequences and the Cre recombinase protein. Transgenic experiments exploit integrative recombination, where a donor plasmid carrying a loxP site and DNA of interest integrate into a recipient loxP site in a target genome. Unfortunately, integrative recombination is highly inefficient because the insert is flanked by two loxP sites, which themselves become targets for Cre and lead to subsequent excision of the insert. A small number of mutations have been discovered in parts of the loxP sequence, specifically the spacer and inverted repeat segments, that increase the efficiency of integrative recombination. In this study we introduce a high-throughput in vitro assay to rapidly detect novel loxP spacer mutants and describe the sequence characteristics of successful recombinants.
Results: We created synthetic loxP oligonucleotides that contained a combination of inverted repeat mutations (the lox66 and lox71 mutations) and mutant spacer sequences, degenerate at 6 of the 8 positions. After in vitro Cre recombination, 3,124 recombinant clones were identified by sequencing. Included in this set were 31 unique, novel, self-recombining sequences. Using network visualization tools, we recognized 12 spacer sets with restricted promiscuity. We observed that increased guanine content at all spacer positions save for position 8 resulted in increased recombination. Interestingly, recombination between identical spacers was not preferred over non-identical spacers. We also identified a set of 16 pairs of loxP spacers that reacted at least twice with another spacer, but not themselves. Further, neither the wild-type P1 phage loxP sequence nor any of the known loxP spacer mutants appeared to be kinetically favoured by Cre recombinase.
Conclusion: This study approached loxP spacer mutant screening in an unbiased manner, assuming nothing about candidate loxP sites save for the conserved 4 and 5 spacer positions. Candidate sites were free to recombine with any other sequence in the pool of all possible sites. The subset of loxP sites identified here are candidates for in vivo serial recombination as they have already demonstrated limited promiscuity with other loxP spacer and stability in the presence of Cre.