Comprehensive identification of factors that can specify neuronal fate could provide valuable insights into lineage specification and reprogramming, but systematic interrogation of transcription factors, and their interactions with each other, has proven technically challenging. We developed a CRISPR activation (CRISPRa) approach to systematically identify regulators of neuronal-fate specification. We activated expression of all endogenous transcription factors and other regulators via a pooled CRISPRa screen in embryonic stem cells, revealing genes including epigenetic regulators such as Ezh2 that can induce neuronal fate. Systematic CRISPR-based activation of factor pairs allowed us to generate a genetic interaction map for neuronal differentiation, with confirmation of top individual and combinatorial hits as bona fide inducers of neuronal fate. Several factor pairs could directly reprogram fibroblasts into neurons, which shared similar transcriptional programs with endogenous neurons. This study provides an unbiased discovery approach for systematic identification of genes that drive cell-fate acquisition.
Keywords: CRISPR; CRISPR activation; CRISPRa screen; DNA-binding factor; cell-fate determination; genetic interaction; neuronal reprogramming; stem cell; transcription factor.
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