Methods (San Diego, Calif.)

Versatile and precise gene-targeting strategies for functional studies in mammalian cell lines.

PMID 28499832


The advent of programmable nucleases such as ZFNs, TALENs and CRISPR/Cas9 has brought the power of genetic manipulation to widely used model systems. In mammalian cells, nuclease-mediated DNA double strand break is mainly repaired through the error-prone non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) repair pathway, eventually leading to accumulation of small deletions or insertions (indels) that can inactivate gene function. However, due to the variable size of the indels and the polyploid status of many cell lines (e.g., cancer-derived cells), obtaining a knockout usually requires lengthy screening and characterization procedures. Given the more precise type of modifications that can be introduced upon homology-directed repair (HDR), we have developed HDR-based gene-targeting strategies that greatly facilitate the process of knockout generation in cell lines. To generate reversible knockouts (R-KO), a selectable promoter-less STOP cassette is inserted in an intron, interrupting transcription. Loss-of-function can be validated by RT-qPCR and is removable, enabling subsequent restoration of gene function. A variant of the R-KO procedure can be used to introduce point mutations. To generate constitutive knockouts (C-KO), an exon is targeted, which makes use of HDR-based gene disruption together with NHEJ-induced indels on non-HDR targeted allele(s). Hence the C-KO procedure greatly facilitates simultaneous inactivation of multiple alleles. Overall these genome-editing tools offer superior precision and efficiency for functional genetic approaches. We provide detailed protocols guiding in the design of targeting vectors and in the analysis and validation of gene targeting experiments.