Profiling of engineering hotspots identifies an allosteric CRISPR-Cas9 switch

Nat Biotechnol. 2016 Jun;34(6):646-51. doi: 10.1038/nbt.3528. Epub 2016 May 2.


The clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-associated protein Cas9 from Streptococcus pyogenes is an RNA-guided DNA endonuclease with widespread utility for genome modification. However, the structural constraints limiting the engineering of Cas9 have not been determined. Here we experimentally profile Cas9 using randomized insertional mutagenesis and delineate hotspots in the structure capable of tolerating insertions of a PDZ domain without disruption of the enzyme's binding and cleavage functions. Orthogonal domains or combinations of domains can be inserted into the identified sites with minimal functional consequence. To illustrate the utility of the identified sites, we construct an allosterically regulated Cas9 by insertion of the estrogen receptor-α ligand-binding domain. This protein showed robust, ligand-dependent activation in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, establishing a versatile one-component system for inducible and reversible Cas9 activation. Thus, domain insertion profiling facilitates the rapid generation of new Cas9 functionalities and provides useful data for future engineering of Cas9.

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Binding Sites
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats / genetics*
  • Endonucleases / genetics*
  • Genes, Switch / genetics*
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional / genetics*
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional / methods*
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed / methods
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Domains
  • Protein Engineering / methods*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9
  • Cas9 endonuclease Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Endonucleases