CRISPR-Cas systems: Prokaryotes upgrade to adaptive immunity

Mol Cell. 2014 Apr 24;54(2):234-44. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2014.03.011.


Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), and associated proteins (Cas) comprise the CRISPR-Cas system, which confers adaptive immunity against exogenic elements in many bacteria and most archaea. CRISPR-mediated immunization occurs through the uptake of DNA from invasive genetic elements such as plasmids and viruses, followed by its integration into CRISPR loci. These loci are subsequently transcribed and processed into small interfering RNAs that guide nucleases for specific cleavage of complementary sequences. Conceptually, CRISPR-Cas shares functional features with the mammalian adaptive immune system, while also exhibiting characteristics of Lamarckian evolution. Because immune markers spliced from exogenous agents are integrated iteratively in CRISPR loci, they constitute a genetic record of vaccination events and reflect environmental conditions and changes over time. Cas endonucleases, which can be reprogrammed by small guide RNAs have shown unprecedented potential and flexibility for genome editing and can be repurposed for numerous DNA targeting applications including transcriptional control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity / genetics*
  • Bacteriophages / immunology
  • CRISPR-Associated Proteins / immunology*
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats / immunology*
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Inverted Repeat Sequences
  • Prokaryotic Cells / immunology*
  • Prokaryotic Cells / virology


  • CRISPR-Associated Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial