Non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) plays an important role in double-strand break (DSB) repair of DNA. Recent studies have shown that the error patterns of NHEJ are strongly biased by sequence context, but these studies were based on relatively few templates. To investigate this more thoroughly, we systematically profiled ∼1.16 million independent mutational events resulting from CRISPR/Cas9-mediated cleavage and NHEJ-mediated DSB repair of 6872 synthetic target sequences, introduced into a human cell line via lentiviral infection. We find that: (i) insertions are dominated by 1 bp events templated by sequence immediately upstream of the cleavage site, (ii) deletions are predominantly associated with microhomology and (iii) targets exhibit variable but reproducible diversity with respect to the number and relative frequency of the mutational outcomes to which they give rise. From these data, we trained a model that uses local sequence context to predict the distribution of mutational outcomes. Exploiting the bias of NHEJ outcomes towards microhomology mediated events, we demonstrate the programming of deletion patterns by introducing microhomology to specific locations in the vicinity of the DSB site. We anticipate that our results will inform investigations of DSB repair mechanisms as well as the design of CRISPR/Cas9 experiments for diverse applications including genome-wide screens, gene therapy, lineage tracing and molecular recording.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.