A rapid CRISPR competitive assay for in vitro and in vivo discovery of potential drug targets affecting the hematopoietic system

Comput Struct Biotechnol J. 2021 Sep 20;19:5360-5370. doi: 10.1016/j.csbj.2021.09.020. eCollection 2021.


CRISPR/Cas9 can be used as an experimental tool to inactivate genes in cells. However, a CRISPR-targeted cell population will not show a uniform genotype of the targeted gene. Instead, a mix of genotypes is generated - from wild type to different forms of insertions and deletions. Such mixed genotypes complicate analysis of the role of the targeted gene in the studied cell population. Here, we present a rapid and universal experimental approach to functionally analyze a CRISPR-targeted cell population that does not involve generating clonal lines. As a simple readout, we leverage the CRISPR-induced genetic heterogeneity and use sequencing to identify how different genotypes are enriched or depleted in relation to the studied cellular behavior or phenotype. The approach uses standard PCR, Sanger sequencing, and a simple sequence deconvoluting software, enabling laboratories without specific in-depth experience to perform these experiments. As proof of principle, we present examples studying various aspects related to hematopoietic cells (T cell development in vivo and activation in vitro, differentiation of macrophages and dendritic cells, as well as a leukemia-like phenotype induced by overexpressing a proto-oncogene). In conclusion, we present a rapid experimental approach to identify potential drug targets related to mature immune cells, as well as normal and malignant hematopoiesis.

Keywords: CRISPR; Cell assay; Drug target discovery; Hematopoiesis; Immune cells; In vivo model; Leukemia; Sequence analysis.