Structure and Dynamics of Cas9 HNH Domain Catalytic State

Zhicheng Zuo, Jin Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17271
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017


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