A Medium-Throughput Single Cell CRISPR-Cas9 Assay to Assess Gene Essentiality

Biol Proced Online. 2015 Nov 14;17:15. doi: 10.1186/s12575-015-0028-4. eCollection 2015.


Background: Target selection for oncology is a crucial step in the successful development of therapeutics. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9 editing of specific loci offers an alternative method to RNA interference and small molecule inhibitors for determining whether a cell line is dependent on a specific gene product for proliferation or survival. In our initial studies using CRISPR-Cas9 to verify the dependence on EZH2 activity for proliferation of a SMARCB1/SNF5/INI1 mutant malignant rhabdoid tumor (MRT) cell line, we noted that the initial reduction in proliferation was lost over time. We hypothesized that in the few cells that retain proliferative capacity, at least one allele of EZH2 remains functional. To verify this, we developed an assay to analyze 10s-100s of clonal cell populations for target gene disruption using restriction digest and fluorescent fragment length analyses.

Results: Our results clearly show that in cell lines in which EZH2 is essential for proliferation, at least one potentially functional allele of EZH2 is retained in the clones that survive.

Conclusion: This assay clearly indicates whether or not a specific gene is essential for survival and/or proliferation in a given cell line. Such data can aid the development of more robust therapeutics by increasing confidence in target selection.

Keywords: CRISPR; EZH2; Epigenetics; Target identification; Target validation.