Coordinated Actions of Cas9 HNH and RuvC Nuclease Domains Are Regulated by the Bridge Helix and the Target DNA Sequence

Kesavan Babu, Venkatesan Kathiresan, Pratibha Kumari, Sydney Newsom, Hari Priya Parameshwaran, Xiongping Chen, Jin Liu, Peter Z. Qin, Rakhi Rajan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


CRISPR-Cas systems are RNA-guided nucleases that provide adaptive immune protection in bacteria and archaea against intruding genomic materials. Cas9, a type-II CRISPR effector protein, is widely used for gene editing applications since a single guide RNA can direct Cas9 to cleave specific genomic targets. The conformational changes associated with RNA/DNA binding are being modulated to develop Cas9 variants with reduced off-Target cleavage. Previously, we showed that proline substitutions in the arginine-rich bridge helix (BH) of Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 (SpyCas9-L64P-K65P, SpyCas92Pro) improve target DNA cleavage selectivity. In this study, we establish that kinetic analysis of the cleavage of supercoiled plasmid substrates provides a facile means to analyze the use of two parallel routes for DNA linearization by SpyCas9: (i) nicking by HNH followed by RuvC cleavage (the TS (target strand) pathway) and (ii) nicking by RuvC followed by HNH cleavage (the NTS (nontarget strand) pathway). BH substitutions and DNA mismatches alter the individual rate constants, resulting in changes in the relative use of the two pathways and the production of nicked and linear species within a given pathway. The results reveal coordinated actions between HNH and RuvC to linearize DNA, which is modulated by the integrity of the BH and the position of the mismatch in the substrate, with each condition producing distinct conformational energy landscapes as observed by molecular dynamics simulations. Overall, our results indicate that BH interactions with RNA/DNA enable target DNA discrimination through the differential use of the parallel sequential pathways driven by HNH/RuvC coordination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3783-3800
Number of pages18
Issue number49
StatePublished - 14 Dec 2021


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