Prediction of off-target activities for the end-to-end design of CRISPR guide RNAs

Nat Biomed Eng. 2018 Jan;2(1):38-47. doi: 10.1038/s41551-017-0178-6. Epub 2018 Jan 10.


The CRISPR-Cas9 system provides unprecedented genome editing capabilities. However, off-target effects lead to sub-optimal usage and additionally are a bottleneck in the development of therapeutic uses. Herein, we introduce the first machine learning-based approach to off-target prediction, yielding a state-of-the-art model for CRISPR-Cas9 that outperforms all other guide design services. Our approach, Elevation, consists of two interdependent machine learning models-one for scoring individual guide-target pairs, and another which aggregates these guide-target scores into a single, overall summary guide score. Through systematic investigation, we demonstrate that Elevation performs substantially better than competing approaches on both tasks. Additionally, we are the first to systematically evaluate approaches on the guide summary score problem; we show that the most widely-used method performs no better than random at times, whereas Elevation consistently outperformed it, sometimes by an order of magnitude. We also introduce an evaluation method that balances errors between active and inactive guides, thereby encapsulating a range of practical use cases; Elevation is consistently superior to other methods across the entire range. Finally, because of the large scale and computational demands of off-target prediction, we have developed a cloud-based service for quick retrieval. This service provides end-to-end guide design by also incorporating our previously reported on-target model, Azimuth. ( treat this web site as confidential until publication).