Journal of molecular cell biology

Efficient inversions and duplications of mammalian regulatory DNA elements and gene clusters by CRISPR/Cas9.

PMID 25757625


The human genome contains millions of DNA regulatory elements and a large number of gene clusters, most of which have not been tested experimentally. The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated nuclease 9 (Cas9) programed with a synthetic single-guide RNA (sgRNA) emerges as a method for genome editing in virtually any organisms. Here we report that targeted DNA fragment inversions and duplications could easily be achieved in human and mouse genomes by CRISPR with two sgRNAs. Specifically, we found that, in cultured human cells and mice, efficient precise inversions of DNA fragments ranging in size from a few tens of bp to hundreds of kb could be generated. In addition, DNA fragment duplications and deletions could also be generated by CRISPR through trans-allelic recombination between the Cas9-induced double-strand breaks (DSBs) on two homologous chromosomes (chromatids). Moreover, junctions of combinatorial inversions and duplications of the protocadherin (Pcdh) gene clusters induced by Cas9 with four sgRNAs could be detected. In mice, we obtained founders with alleles of precise inversions, duplications, and deletions of DNA fragments of variable sizes by CRISPR. Interestingly, we found that very efficient inversions were mediated by microhomology-mediated end joining (MMEJ) through short inverted repeats. We showed for the first time that DNA fragment inversions could be transmitted through germlines in mice. Finally, we applied this CRISPR method to a regulatory element of the Pcdhα cluster and found a new role in the regulation of members of the Pcdhγ cluster. This simple and efficient method should be useful in manipulating mammalian genomes to study millions of regulatory DNA elements as well as vast numbers of gene clusters.