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Dynamics of CRISPR-Cas9 genome interrogation in living cells

Science  13 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6262, pp. 823-826
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac6572

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Genome editing with a Cas9 scalpel

The Cas9 nuclease forms the heart of the CRISPR-Cas genome editing system. Cas9 binds small guide RNAs that direct it to its target sites, where the nuclease either cleaves or binds to genomic DNA. Knight et al. used single-molecule imaging to track Cas9 in living cells. Cas9 searches the genome for its target sites using rapid threedimensional diffusion. It spends very little time binding to off-target sites, which explains the high accuracy of the CRISPRCas9 editing machine.

Science, this issue p. 823

Abstract

The RNA-guided CRISPR-associated protein Cas9 is used for genome editing, transcriptional modulation, and live-cell imaging. Cas9-guide RNA complexes recognize and cleave double-stranded DNA sequences on the basis of 20-nucleotide RNA-DNA complementarity, but the mechanism of target searching in mammalian cells is unknown. Here, we use single-particle tracking to visualize diffusion and chromatin binding of Cas9 in living cells. We show that three-dimensional diffusion dominates Cas9 searching in vivo, and off-target binding events are, on average, short-lived (<1 second). Searching is dependent on the local chromatin environment, with less sampling and slower movement within heterochromatin. These results reveal how the bacterial Cas9 protein interrogates mammalian genomes and navigates eukaryotic chromatin structure.

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