Herpes simplex viruses (HSVs) are frequent human pathogens and the ability to engineer these viruses underpins much research into their biology and pathogenesis. Often the ultimate aim is to produce a virus that has the desired phenotypic change and no additional alterations in characteristics. This requires methods that minimally disrupt the genome and, for insertions of foreign DNA, sites must be found that can be engineered without disrupting HSV gene function or expression. This study advances both of these requirements. Firstly, the use of homologous recombination between the virus genome and plasmids in mammalian cells is a reliable way to engineer HSV such that minimal genome changes are made. This has most frequently been achieved by cotransfection of plasmid and isolated viral genomic DNA, but an alternative is to supply the virus genome by infection in a transfection-infection method. Such approaches can also incorporate CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering methods. Current descriptions of infection-transfection methods, either with or without the addition of CRISPR/Cas9 targeting, are limited in detail and the extent of optimization. In this study it was found that transfection efficiency and the length of homologous sequences improve the efficiency of recombination in these methods, but the targeting of the locus to be engineered by CRISPR/Cas9 nucleases has an overriding positive impact. Secondly, the intergenic space between UL26 and UL27 was reexamined as a site for the addition of foreign DNA and a position identified that allows insertions without compromising HSV growth in vitro or in vivo.
Keywords: CRISPR; Cas9; Genome engineering; Herpes simplex virus; Recombinant virus.
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