Allosteric Motions of the CRISPR-Cas9 HNH Nuclease Probed by NMR and Molecular Dynamics.
ABSTRACT: CRISPR-Cas9 is a widely employed genome-editing tool with functionality reliant on the ability of the Cas9 endonuclease to introduce site-specific breaks in double-stranded DNA. In this system, an intriguing allosteric communication has been suggested to control its DNA cleavage activity through flexibility of the catalytic HNH domain. Here, solution NMR experiments and a novel Gaussian-accelerated molecular dynamics (GaMD) simulation method are used to capture the structural and dynamic determinants of allosteric signaling within the HNH domain. We reveal the existence of a millisecond time scale dynamic pathway that spans HNH from the region interfacing the adjacent RuvC nuclease and propagates up to the DNA recognition lobe in full-length CRISPR-Cas9. These findings reveal a potential route of signal transduction within the CRISPR-Cas9 HNH nuclease, advancing our understanding of the allosteric pathway of activation. Further, considering the role of allosteric signaling in the specificity of CRISPR-Cas9, this work poses the mechanistic basis for novel engineering efforts aimed at improving its genome-editing capability.
Project description:Allostery is a fundamental property of proteins, which regulates biochemical information transfer between spatially distant sites. Here, we report on the critical role of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations in discovering the mechanism of allosteric communication within CRISPR-Cas9, a leading genome editing machinery with enormous promises for medicine and biotechnology. MD revealed how allostery intervenes during at least three steps of the CRISPR-Cas9 function: affecting DNA recognition, mediating the cleavage and interfering with the off-target activity. An allosteric communication that activates concerted DNA cleavages was found to led through the L1/L2 loops, which connect the HNH and RuvC catalytic domains. The identification of these "allosteric transducers" inspired the development of novel variants of the Cas9 protein with improved specificity, opening a new avenue for controlling the CRISPR-Cas9 activity. Discussed studies also highlight the critical role of the recognition lobe in the conformational activation of the catalytic HNH domain. Specifically, the REC3 region was found to modulate the dynamics of HNH by sensing the formation of the RNA:DNA hybrid. The role of REC3 was revealed to be particularly relevant in the presence of DNA mismatches. Indeed, interference of REC3 with the RNA:DNA hybrid containing mismatched pairs at specific positions resulted in locking HNH in an inactive "conformational checkpoint" conformation, thereby hampering off-target cleavages. Overall, MD simulations established the fundamental mechanisms underlying the allosterism of CRISPR-Cas9, aiding engineering strategies to develop new CRISPR-Cas9 variants for improved genome editing.
Project description:High-resolution Cas9 structures have yet to reveal catalytic conformations due to HNH nuclease domain positioning away from the cleavage site. Nme1Cas9 and Nme2Cas9 are compact nucleases for in vivo genome editing. Here, we report structures of meningococcal Cas9 homologs in complex with sgRNA, dsDNA, or the AcrIIC3 anti-CRISPR protein. DNA-bound structures represent an early step of target recognition, a later HNH pre-catalytic state, the HNH catalytic state, and a cleaved-target-DNA-bound state. In the HNH catalytic state of Nme1Cas9, the active site is seen poised at the scissile phosphodiester linkage of the target strand, providing a high-resolution view of the active conformation. The HNH active conformation activates the RuvC domain. Our structures explain how Nme1Cas9 and Nme2Cas9 read distinct PAM sequences and how AcrIIC3 inhibits Nme1Cas9 activity. These structures provide insights into Cas9 domain rearrangements, guide-target engagement, cleavage mechanism, and anti-CRISPR inhibition, facilitating the optimization of these genome-editing platforms.
Project description:The bacterial CRISPR-Cas9 immune system has been harnessed as a powerful and versatile genome-editing tool and holds immense promise for future therapeutic applications. Despite recent advances in understanding Cas9 structures and its functional mechanism, little is known about the catalytic state of the Cas9 HNH nuclease domain, and identifying how the divalent metal ions affect the HNH domain conformational transition remains elusive. A deeper understanding of Cas9 activation and its cleavage mechanism can enable further optimization of Cas9-based genome-editing specificity and efficiency. Using two distinct molecular dynamics simulation techniques, we have obtained a cross-validated catalytically active state of Cas9 HNH domain primed for cutting the target DNA strand. Moreover, herein we demonstrate the essential roles of the catalytic Mg2+ for the active state formation and stability. Importantly, we suggest that the derived catalytic conformation of the HNH domain can be exploited for rational engineering of Cas9 variants with enhanced specificity.
Project description:CRISPR-Cas9 is a powerful tool for target genome editing in living cells. Significant advances have been made to understand how this system cleaves target DNA. HNH is a nuclease domain, which shares structural similarity with the HNH endonuclease characterzied by a beta-beta-alpha-metal fold. Therefore, based on one- and two-metal-ion mechanisms, homology modeling and molecular dynamics (MD) simulation are suitable tools for building an atomic model of Cas9 in the DNA cleavage state. Here, by modeling and MD, we presented an atomic model of SpCas9-sgRNA-DNA complex with the cleavage state. This model shows that the HNH and RuvC conformations resemble their DNA cleavage state where the active-sites in the complex coordinate with DNA, Mg<sup>2+</sup> ions, and water. Among them, residues D10, E762, H983, and D986 locate at the first shell of the RuvC active-site and interact with the ions directly, residues H982 or/and H985 are general (Lewis) bases, and the coordinated water is located at the positions for nucleophilic attack of the scissile phosphate. Meanwhile, this catalytic model led us to engineer a new SpCas9 variant (SpCas9-H982A + H983D) with reduced off-target effects. Thus, our study provided new mechanistic insights into the CRISPR-Cas9 system in the DNA cleavage state and offered useful guidance for engineering new CRISPR-Cas9 editing systems with improved specificity.
Project description:CRISPR-Cas9 is a genome editing technology with major impact in life sciences. In this system, the endonuclease Cas9 generates double strand breaks in DNA upon RNA-guided recognition of a complementary DNA sequence, which strictly requires the presence of a protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) next to the target site. Although PAM recognition is essential for cleavage, it is unknown whether and how PAM binding activates Cas9 for DNA cleavage at spatially distant sites. Here, we find evidence of a PAM-induced allosteric mechanism revealed by microsecond molecular dynamics simulations. PAM acts as an allosteric effector and triggers the interdependent conformational dynamics of the Cas9 catalytic domains (HNH and RuvC), responsible for concerted cleavage of the two DNA strands. Targeting such an allosteric mechanism should enable control of CRISPR-Cas9 functionality.
Project description:The CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 from Streptococcus pyogenes (SpyCas9), along with a programmable single-guide RNA (sgRNA), has been exploited as a significant genome-editing tool. Despite the recent advances in determining the SpyCas9 structures and DNA cleavage mechanism, the cleavage-competent conformation of the catalytic HNH nuclease domain of SpyCas9 remains largely elusive and debatable. By integrating computational and experimental approaches, we unveiled and validated the activated Cas9-sgRNA-DNA ternary complex in which the HNH domain is neatly poised for cleaving the target DNA strand. In this catalysis model, the HNH employs the catalytic triad of D839-H840-N863 for cleavage catalysis, rather than previously implicated D839-H840-D861, D837-D839-H840, or D839-H840-D861-N863. Our study contributes critical information to defining the catalytic conformation of the HNH domain and advances the knowledge about the conformational activation underlying Cas9-mediated DNA cleavage.
Project description:Base editors are RNA-guided deaminases that enable site-specific nucleotide transitions. The targeting scope of these Cas-deaminase fusion proteins critically depends on the availability of a protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) at the target locus and is limited to a window within the CRISPR-Cas R-loop, where single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) is accessible to the deaminase. Here, we reason that the Cas9-HNH nuclease domain sterically constrains ssDNA accessibility and demonstrate that omission of this domain expands the editing window. By exchanging the HNH nuclease domain with a monomeric or heterodimeric adenosine deaminase, we furthermore engineer adenine base editor variants (HNHx-ABEs) with PAM-proximally shifted editing windows. This work expands the targeting scope of base editors and provides base editor variants that are substantially smaller. It moreover informs of potential future directions in Cas9 protein engineering, where the HNH domain could be replaced by other enzymes that act on ssDNA.
Project description:CRISPR-Cas9 technology has been widely used for genome engineering. Its RNA-guided endonuclease Cas9 binds specifically to target DNA and then cleaves the two DNA strands with HNH and RuvC nuclease domains. However, structural information regarding the DNA cleavage-activating state of two nuclease domains remains sparse. Here, we report a 5.2?Å cryo-EM structure of Cas9 in complex with sgRNA and target DNA. This structure reveals a conformational state of Cas9 in which the HNH domain is closest to the DNA cleavage site. Compared with two known HNH states, our structure shows that the HNH active site moves toward the cleavage site by about 25 and 13?Å, respectively. In combination with EM-based molecular dynamics simulations, we show that residues of the nuclease domains in our structure could form cleavage-compatible conformations with the target DNA. Together, these results strongly suggest that our cryo-EM structure resembles a DNA cleavage-activating architecture of Cas9.
Project description:The CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 can be targeted to specific genomic loci by single guide RNAs (sgRNAs). Here, we report the crystal structure of Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 in complex with sgRNA and its target DNA at 2.5 Å resolution. The structure revealed a bilobed architecture composed of target recognition and nuclease lobes, accommodating the sgRNA:DNA heteroduplex in a positively charged groove at their interface. Whereas the recognition lobe is essential for binding sgRNA and DNA, the nuclease lobe contains the HNH and RuvC nuclease domains, which are properly positioned for cleavage of the complementary and noncomplementary strands of the target DNA, respectively. The nuclease lobe also contains a carboxyl-terminal domain responsible for the interaction with the protospacer adjacent motif (PAM). This high-resolution structure and accompanying functional analyses have revealed the molecular mechanism of RNA-guided DNA targeting by Cas9, thus paving the way for the rational design of new, versatile genome-editing technologies.
Project description:Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) systems provide bacteria and archaea with adaptive immunity against viruses and plasmids by using CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) to guide the silencing of invading nucleic acids. We show here that in a subset of these systems, the mature crRNA that is base-paired to trans-activating crRNA (tracrRNA) forms a two-RNA structure that directs the CRISPR-associated protein Cas9 to introduce double-stranded (ds) breaks in target DNA. At sites complementary to the crRNA-guide sequence, the Cas9 HNH nuclease domain cleaves the complementary strand, whereas the Cas9 RuvC-like domain cleaves the noncomplementary strand. The dual-tracrRNA:crRNA, when engineered as a single RNA chimera, also directs sequence-specific Cas9 dsDNA cleavage. Our study reveals a family of endonucleases that use dual-RNAs for site-specific DNA cleavage and highlights the potential to exploit the system for RNA-programmable genome editing.