The adaptation of the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR associated endonuclease 9 (CRISPR-Cas9) machinery from prokaryotic organisms has resulted in a gene editing system that is highly versatile, easily constructed, and can be leveraged to generate human cells knocked out (KO) for a specific gene. While standard transfection techniques can be used for the introduction of CRISPR-Cas9 expression cassettes to many cell types, delivery by this method is not efficient in many primary cell types, including primary human airway epithelial cells (AECs). More efficient delivery in AECs can be achieved through lentiviral-mediated transduction, allowing the CRISPR-Cas9 system to be integrated into the genome of the cell, resulting in stable expression of the nuclease machinery and increasing editing rates. In parallel, advancements have been made in the culture, expansion, selection, and differentiation of AECs, which allow the robust generation of a bulk edited AEC population from transduced cells. Applying these methods, we detail here our latest protocol to generate mucociliary epithelial cultures knocked out for a specific gene from donor-isolated primary human basal airway epithelial cells. This protocol includes methods to: (1) design and generate lentivirus which targets a specific gene for KO with CRISPR-Cas9 machinery, (2) efficiently transduce AECs, (3) culture and select for a bulk edited AEC population, (4) molecularly screen AECs for Cas9 cutting and specific sequence edits, and (5) further expand and differentiate edited cells to a mucociliary airway epithelial culture. The AEC knockouts generated using this protocol provide an excellent primary cell model system with which to characterize the function of genes involved in airway dysfunction and disease.
Keywords: Airway epithelial cells; CRISPR; Gene editing; Gene knockout; Lentivirus; Primary cells.