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, 157 (6), 1262-78

Development and Applications of CRISPR-Cas9 for Genome Engineering


Development and Applications of CRISPR-Cas9 for Genome Engineering

Patrick D Hsu et al. Cell.


Recent advances in genome engineering technologies based on the CRISPR-associated RNA-guided endonuclease Cas9 are enabling the systematic interrogation of mammalian genome function. Analogous to the search function in modern word processors, Cas9 can be guided to specific locations within complex genomes by a short RNA search string. Using this system, DNA sequences within the endogenous genome and their functional outputs are now easily edited or modulated in virtually any organism of choice. Cas9-mediated genetic perturbation is simple and scalable, empowering researchers to elucidate the functional organization of the genome at the systems level and establish causal linkages between genetic variations and biological phenotypes. In this Review, we describe the development and applications of Cas9 for a variety of research or translational applications while highlighting challenges as well as future directions. Derived from a remarkable microbial defense system, Cas9 is driving innovative applications from basic biology to biotechnology and medicine.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Applications of Genome Engineering
Genetic and epigenetic control of cells with genome engineering technologies is enabling a broad range of applications from basic biology to biotechnology and medicine. (Clockwise from top) Causal genetic mutations or epigenetic variants associated with altered biological function or disease phenotypes can now be rapidly and efficiently recapitulated in animal or cellular models (Animal models, Genetic variation). Manipulating biological circuits could also facilitate the generation of useful synthetic materials, such as algae-derived, silicabased diatoms for oral drug delivery (Materials). Additionally, precise genetic engineering of important agricultural crops could confer resistance to environmental deprivation or pathogenic infection, improving food security while avoiding the introduction of foreign DNA (Food). Sustainable and cost-effective biofuels are attractive sources for renewable energy, which could be achieved by creating efficient metabolic pathways for ethanol production in algae or corn (Fuel). Direct in vivo correction of genetic or epigenetic defects in somatic tissue would be permanent genetic solutions that address the root cause of genetically encoded disorders (Gene surgery). Finally, engineering cells to optimize high yield generation of drug precursors in bacterial factories could significantly reduce the cost and accessibility of useful therapeutics (Drug development).
Figure 2
Figure 2. Genome Editing Technologies Exploit Endogenous DNA Repair Machinery
(A) DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are typically repaired by nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) or homology-directed repair (HDR). In the error-prone NHEJ pathway, Ku heterodimers bind to DSB ends and serve as a molecular scaffold for associated repair proteins. Indels are introduced when the complementary strands undergo end resection and misaligned repair due to micro-homology, eventually leading to frameshift mutations and gene knockout. Alternatively, Rad51 proteins may bind DSB ends during the initial phase of HDR, recruiting accessory factors that direct genomic recombination with homology arms on an exogenous repair template. Bypassing the matching sister chromatid facilitates the introduction of precise gene modifications. (B) Zinc finger (ZF) proteins and transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs) are naturally occurring DNA-binding domains that can be modularly assembled to target specific sequences. ZF and TALE domains each recognize 3 and 1 bp of DNA, respectively. Such DNA-binding proteins can be fused to the FokI endonuclease to generate programmable site-specific nucleases. (C) The Cas9 nuclease from the microbial CRISPR adaptive immune system is localized to specific DNA sequences via the guide sequence on its guide RNA (red), directly base-pairing with the DNA target. Binding of a protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM, blue) downstream of the target locus helps to direct Cas9-mediated DSBs.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Key Studies Characterizing and Engineering CRISPR Systems
Cas9 has also been referred to as Cas5, Csx12, and Csn1 in literature prior to 2012. For clarity, we exclusively adopt the Cas9 nomenclature throughout this Review. CRISPR, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats; Cas, CRISPR-associated; crRNA, CRISPR RNA; DSB, double-strand break; tracrRNA, trans-activating CRISPR RNA.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Natural Mechanisms of Microbial CRISPR Systems in Adaptive Immunity
Following invasion of the cell by foreign genetic elements from bacteriophages or plasmids (step 1: phage infection), certain CRISPR-associated (Cas) enzymes acquire spacers from the exogenous protospacer sequences and install them into the CRISPR locus within the prokaryotic genome (step 2: spacer acquisition). These spacers are segregated between direct repeats that allow the CRISPR system to mediate self and nonself recognition. The CRISPR array is a noncoding RNA transcript that is enzymatically maturated through distinct pathways that are unique to each type of CRISPR system (step 3: crRNA biogenesis and processing). In types I and III CRISPR, the pre-crRNA transcript is cleaved within the repeats by CRISPR-associated ribonucleases, releasing multiple small crRNAs. Type III crRNA intermediates are further processed at the 3′ end by yet-to-be-identified RNases to produce the fully mature transcript. In type II CRISPR, an associated trans-activating CRISPR RNA (tracrRNA) hybridizes with the direct repeats, forming an RNA duplex that is cleaved and processed by endogenous RNase III and other unknown nucleases. Maturated crRNAs from type I and III CRISPR systems are then loaded onto effector protein complexes for target recognition and degradation. In type II systems, crRNA-tracrRNA hybrids complex with Cas9 to mediate interference. Both type I and III CRISPR systems use multiprotein interference modules to facilitate target recognition. In type I CRISPR, the Cascade complex is loaded with a crRNA molecule, constituting a catalytically inert surveillance complex that recognizes target DNA. The Cas3 nuclease is then recruited to the Cascade-bound R loop, mediating target degradation. In type III CRISPR, crRNAs associate either with Csm or Cmr complexes that bind and cleave DNA and RNA substrates, respectively. In contrast, the type II system requires only the Cas9 nuclease to degrade DNA matching its dual guide RNA consisting of a crRNA-tracrRNA hybrid.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Structural and Metagenomic Diversity of Cas9 Orthologs
(A) Crystal structure of Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 in complex with guide RNA and target DNA. (B) Canonical CRISPR locus organization from type II CRISPR systems, which can be classified into IIA-IIC based on their cas gene clusters. Whereas type IIC CRISPR loci contain the minimal set of cas9, cas1, and cas2, IIA and IIB retain their signature csn2 and cas4 genes, respectively. (C) Histogram displaying length distribution of known Cas9 orthologs as described in UniProt, HAMAP protein family profile MF_01480. (D) Phylogenetic tree displaying the microbial origin of Cas9 nucleases from the type II CRISPR immune system. Taxonomic information was derived from greengenes 16S rRNA gene sequence alignment, and the tree was visualized using the Interactive Tree of Life tool (iTol). (E) Four Cas9 orthologs from families IIA, IIB, and IIC were aligned by ClustalW (BLOSUM). Domain alignment is based on the Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9, whereas residues highlighted in red indicate highly conserved catalytic residues within the RuvC I and HNH nuclease domains.
Figure 6
Figure 6. Applications of Cas9 as a Genome Engineering Platform
(A) The Cas9 nuclease cleaves DNA via its RuvC and HNH nuclease domains, each ofwhich nicks a DNA strand to generate blunt-end DSBs. Either catalytic domain can be inactivated to generate nickase mutants that cause single-strand DNA breaks. (B) Two Cas9 nickase complexes with appropriately spaced target sites can mimic targeted DSBs via cooperative nicks, doubling the length of target recognition without sacrificing cleavage efficiency. (C) Expression plasmids encoding the Cas9 gene and a short sgRNA cassette driven by the U6 RNA polymerase III promoter can be directly transfected into cell lines of interest. (D) Purified Cas9 protein and in vitro transcribed sgRNA can be microinjected into fertilized zygotes for rapid generation of transgenic animal models. (E) For somatic genetic modification, high-titer viral vectors encoding CRISPR reagents can be transduced into tissues or cells of interest. (F) Genome-scale functional screening can be facilitated by mass synthesis and delivery of guide RNA libraries. (G) Catalytically dead Cas9 (dCas9) can be converted into a general DNA-binding domain and fused to functional effectors such as transcriptional activators or epigenetic enzymes. The modularity of targeting and flexible choice of functional domains enable rapid expansion of the Cas9 toolbox. (H) Cas9 coupled to fluorescent reporters facilitates live imaging of DNA loci for illuminating the dynamics of genome architecture. (I) Reconstituting split fragments of Cas9 via chemical or optical induction of heterodimer domains, such as the cib1/cry2 system from Arabidopsis, confers temporal control of dynamic cellular processes.

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