Optimizing sgRNA length to improve target specificity and efficiency for the GGTA1 gene using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system

Anders W. Matson, Nora Hosny, Zachary A. Swanson, Bernhard J. Hering, Christopher Burlak

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14 Scopus citations


The CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system has enhanced the development of genetically engineered animals for use in xenotransplantation. Potential limitations to the CRISPR/Cas9 system impacting the development of genetically engineered cells and animals include the creation of off-target mutations. We sought to develop a method to reduce the likelihood of off-target mutation while maintaining a high efficiency rate of desired genetic mutations for the GGTA1 gene. Extension of sgRNA length, responsible for recognition of the target DNA sequence for Cas9 cleavage, resulted in improved specificity for the GGTA1 gene and less off-target DNA cleavage. Three PAM sites were selected within exon 1 of the porcine GGTA1 gene and ten sgRNA of variable lengths were designed across these three sites. The sgRNA was tested against synthetic double stranded DNA templates replicating both the native GGTA1 DNA template and the two most likely off-target binding sites in the porcine genome. Cleavage ability for native and off-target DNA was determined by in vitro cleavage assays. Resulting cleavage products were analyzed to determine the cleavage efficiency of the Cas9/sgRNA complex. Extension of sgRNA length did not have a statistical impact on the specificity of the Cas9/sgRNA complex for PAM1 and PAM2 sites. At the PAM3 site, however, an observed increase in specificity for native versus off-target templates was seen with increased sgRNA length. In addition, distance between PAM site and the start codon had a significant impact on cleavage efficiency and target specificity, regardless of sgRNA length. Although the in vitro assays showed off-target cleavage, Sanger sequencing revealed that no off-target mutations were found in GGTA1 knockout cell lines or piglet. These results demonstrate an optimized method for improvement of the CRIPSR/ Cas9 gene editing system by reducing the likelihood of damaging off-target mutations in GGTA1 knocked out cells destined for xenotransplant donor production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0226107
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Diabetes-Free Inc, CON000000068722 to CB. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Matson et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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