CRISPR-Directed Gene Editing Catalyzes Precise Gene Segment Replacement In Vitro Enabling a Novel Method for Multiplex Site-Directed Mutagenesis

Authors: Sansbury, B. M., Wagner, A. M., Tarcic, G., Barth, S., Nitzan, E., Goldfus, R., Vidne, M., & Kmiec, E. B.
Date: 18 April, 2019
Journal: The CRISPR journal, 2, 121–132

Much of our understanding of eukaryotic genes function comes from studies of the activity of their mutated forms or allelic variability. Mutations have helped elucidate how members of an intricate pathway function in relation to each other and how they operate in the context of the regulatory circuitry that surrounds them. A PCR-based site-directed mutagenesis technique is often used to engineer these variants. While these tools are efficient, they are not without significant limitations, most notably off-site mutagenesis, limited scalability, and lack of multiplexing capabilities. To overcome many of these limitations, we now describe a novel method for the introduction of both simple and complex gene mutations in plasmid DNA by using in vitro DNA editing. A specifically designed pair of CRISPR-Cas12a ribonucleoprotein complexes are used to execute site-specific double-strand breaks on plasmid DNA, enabling the excision of a defined DNA fragment. Donor DNA replacement is catalyzed by a mammalian cell-free extract through microhomology annealing of short regions of single-stranded DNA complementarity; we term this method CRISPR-directed DNA mutagenesis (CDM). The products of CDM are plasmids bearing precise donor fragments with specific modifications and CDM could be used for mutagenesis in larger constructs such as Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BACs) or Yeast Artificial Chromosome (YACs). We further show that this reaction can be multiplexed so that product molecules with multiple site-specific mutations and site-specific deletions can be generated in the same in vitro reaction mixture. Importantly, the CDM method produces fewer unintended mutations in the target gene as compared to the standard site-directed mutagenesis assay; CDM produces no unintended mutations throughout the plasmid backbone. Lastly, this system recapitulates the multitude of reactions that take place during CRISPR-directed gene editing in mammalian cells and affords the opportunity to study the mechanism of action of CRISPR-directed gene editing in mammalian cells by visualizing a multitude of genetic products.

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