Visualizing Live Chromatin Dynamics through CRISPR-Based Imaging Techniques

Mol Cells. 2021 Sep 30;44(9):627-636. doi: 10.14348/molcells.2021.2254.


The three-dimensional organization of chromatin and its time-dependent changes greatly affect virtually every cellular function, especially DNA replication, genome maintenance, transcription regulation, and cell differentiation. Sequencing-based techniques such as ChIP-seq, ATAC-seq, and Hi-C provide abundant information on how genomic elements are coupled with regulatory proteins and functionally organized into hierarchical domains through their interactions. However, visualizing the time-dependent changes of such organization in individual cells remains challenging. Recent developments of CRISPR systems for site-specific fluorescent labeling of genomic loci have provided promising strategies for visualizing chromatin dynamics in live cells. However, there are several limiting factors, including background signals, off-target binding of CRISPR, and rapid photobleaching of the fluorophores, requiring a large number of target-bound CRISPR complexes to reliably distinguish the target-specific foci from the background. Various modifications have been engineered into the CRISPR system to enhance the signal-to-background ratio and signal longevity to detect target foci more reliably and efficiently, and to reduce the required target size. In this review, we comprehensively compare the performances of recently developed CRISPR designs for improved visualization of genomic loci in terms of the reliability of target detection, the ability to detect small repeat loci, and the allowed time of live tracking. Longer observation of genomic loci allows the detailed identification of the dynamic characteristics of chromatin. The diffusion properties of chromatin found in recent studies are reviewed, which provide suggestions for the underlying biological processes.

Keywords: CRISPR engineering; chromatin dynamics; genome imaging.