Enhancing zinc-finger-nuclease activity with improved obligate heterodimeric architectures

Nat Methods. 2011 Jan;8(1):74-9. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.1539. Epub 2010 Dec 5.


Zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) drive efficient genome editing by introducing a double-strand break into the targeted gene. Cleavage is induced when two custom-designed ZFNs heterodimerize upon binding DNA to form a catalytically active nuclease complex. The importance of this dimerization event for subsequent cleavage activity has stimulated efforts to engineer the nuclease interface to prevent undesired homodimerization. Here we report the development and application of a yeast-based selection system designed to functionally interrogate the ZFN dimer interface. We identified critical residues involved in dimerization through the isolation of cold-sensitive nuclease domains. We used these residues to engineer ZFNs that have superior cleavage activity while suppressing homodimerization. The improvements were portable to orthogonal domains, allowing the concomitant and independent cleavage of two loci using two different ZFN pairs. These ZFN architectures provide a general means for obtaining highly efficient and specific genome modification.

MeSH terms

  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Dimerization
  • Endonucleases / genetics
  • Endonucleases / metabolism*
  • Genome
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / enzymology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism
  • Zinc Fingers / genetics
  • Zinc Fingers / physiology*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • DNA
  • Endonucleases