Cell biochemistry and biophysics

Nucleic Acid-Dependent Conformational Changes in CRISPR-Cas9 Revealed by Site-Directed Spin Labeling.

PMID 27342128


In a type II clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) system, RNAs that are encoded at the CRISPR locus complex with the CRISPR-associated (Cas) protein Cas9 to form an RNA-guided nuclease that cleaves double-stranded DNAs at specific sites. In recent years, the CRISPR-Cas9 system has been successfully adapted for genome engineering in a wide range of organisms. Studies have indicated that a series of conformational changes in Cas9, coordinated by the RNA and the target DNA, direct the protein into its active conformation, yet details on these conformational changes, as well as their roles in the mechanism of function of Cas9, remain to be elucidated. Here, nucleic acid-dependent conformational changes in Streptococcus pyogenes Cas9 (SpyCas9) were investigated using the method of site-directed spin labeling (SDSL). Single nitroxide spin labels were attached, one at a time, at one of the two native cysteine residues (Cys80 and Cys574) of SpyCas9, and the spin-labeled proteins were shown to maintain their function. X-band continuous-wave electron paramagnetic resonance spectra of the nitroxide attached at Cys80 revealed conformational changes of SpyCas9 that are consistent with a large-scale domain re-arrangement upon binding to its RNA partner. The results demonstrate the use of SDSL to monitor conformational changes in CRISPR-Cas9, which will provide key information for understanding the mechanism of CRISPR function.