Rational Engineering of CRISPR-Cas9 Nuclease to Attenuate Position-Dependent Off-Target Effects

Zhicheng Zuo, Kesavan Babu, Chhandosee Ganguly, Ashwini Zolekar, Sydney Newsom, Rakhi Rajan, Yu Chieh Wang, Jin Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The RNA-guided Cas9 nuclease from Streptococcus pyogenes has become an important gene-editing tool. However, its intrinsic off-Target activity is a major challenge for biomedical applications. Distinct from some reported engineering strategies that specifically target a single domain, we rationally introduced multiple amino acid substitutions across multiple domains in the enzyme to create potential high-fidelity variants, considering the Cas9 specificity is synergistically determined by various domains. We also exploited our previously derived atomic model of activated Cas9 complex structure for guiding new modifications. This approach has led to the identification of the HSC1.2 Cas9 variant with enhanced specificity for DNA cleavage. While the enhanced specificity associated with the HSC1.2 variant appeared to be position-dependent in the in vitro cleavage assays, the frequency of off-Target DNA editing with this Cas9 variant is much less than that of the wild-Type Cas9 in human cells. The potential mechanisms causing the observed position-dependent effect were investigated through molecular dynamics simulation. Our discoveries establish a solid foundation for leveraging structural and dynamic information to develop Cas9-like enzymes with high specificity in gene editing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-340
Number of pages12
JournalCRISPR Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


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