Structure and Specificity of the RNA-guided Endonuclease Cas9 during DNA Interrogation, Target Binding, and Cleavage

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Eric Josephs, Assistant Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 cuts DNA at variable target sites designated by a Cas9-bound RNA molecule. Cas9's ability to be directed by single ‘guide RNA’ molecules to target nearly any sequence has been recently exploited for a number of emerging biological and medical applications. Therefore, understanding the nature of Cas9's off-target activity is of paramount importance for its practical use. Using atomic force microscopy (AFM), we directly resolve individual Cas9 and nuclease-inactive dCas9 proteins as they bind along engineered DNA substrates. High-resolution imaging allows us to determine their relative propensities to bind with different guide RNA variants to targeted or off-target sequences. Mapping the structural properties of Cas9 and dCas9 to their respective binding sites reveals a progressive conformational transformation at DNA sites with increasing sequence similarity to its target. With kinetic Monte Carlo (KMC) simulations, these results provide evidence of a ‘conformational gating’ mechanism driven by the interactions between the guide RNA and the 14th–17th nucleotide region of the targeted DNA, the stabilities of which we find correlate significantly with reported off-target cleavage rates. KMC simulations also reveal potential methodologies to engineer guide RNA sequences with improved specificity by considering the invasion of guide RNAs into targeted DNA duplex.

Additional Information

Nucleic Acids Research, 2015, 43 (18), 8924-8941
Language: English
Date: 2015
CRISPR, Cas9, atomic force microscopy (AFM), kinetic Monte Carlo (KMC), guide RNAs

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