In Vitro Selection of Engineered Transcriptional Repressors for Targeted Epigenetic Silencing

J Vis Exp. 2023 May 5:(195). doi: 10.3791/64403.


Gene inactivation is instrumental to study gene function and represents a promising strategy for the treatment of a broad range of diseases. Among traditional technologies, RNA interference suffers from partial target abrogation and the requirement for life-long treatments. In contrast, artificial nucleases can impose stable gene inactivation through induction of a DNA double strand break (DSB), but recent studies are questioning the safety of this approach. Targeted epigenetic editing via engineered transcriptional repressors (ETRs) may represent a solution, as a single administration of specific ETR combinations can lead to durable silencing without inducing DNA breaks. ETRs are proteins containing a programmable DNA-binding domain (DBD) and effectors from naturally occurring transcriptional repressors. Specifically, a combination of three ETRs equipped with the KRAB domain of human ZNF10, the catalytic domain of human DNMT3A and human DNMT3L, was shown to induce heritable repressive epigenetic states on the ETR-target gene. The hit-and-run nature of this platform, the lack of impact on the DNA sequence of the target, and the possibility to revert to the repressive state by DNA demethylation on demand, make epigenetic silencing a game-changing tool. A critical step is the identification of the proper ETRs' position on the target gene to maximize on-target and minimize off-target silencing. Performing this step in the final ex vivo or in vivo preclinical setting can be cumbersome. Taking the CRISPR/catalytically dead Cas9 system as a paradigmatic DBD for ETRs, this paper describes a protocol consisting of the in vitro screen of guide RNAs (gRNAs) coupled to the triple-ETR combination for efficient on-target silencing, followed by evaluation of the genome-wide specificity profile of top hits. This allows for reduction of the initial repertoire of candidate gRNAs to a short list of promising ones, whose complexity is suitable for their final evaluation in the therapeutically relevant setting of interest.

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CRISPR-Cas Systems
  • DNA / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Editing* / methods
  • Gene Silencing
  • Humans
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Transcription Factors
  • DNA