Development of a modular in vivo reporter system for CRISPR-mediated genome editing and its therapeutic applications for rare genetic respiratory diseases
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2019
Foster, Robert Graham
Rare diseases, when considered as a whole, affect up to 7% of the population, which would represent 3.5 million individuals in the United Kingdom alone. However, while “personalised medicine” is now yielding remarkable results using recent sequencing technologies in terms of diagnosing genetic conditions, we have made much less headway in translating this patient information into therapies and effective treatments. Even with recent calls for greater research into personalised treatments for those affected by a rare disease, progress in this area is still severely lacking, in part due to the astronomical cost and time involved in bringing treatments to the clinic. Gene correction using the recently-described genome editing technology CRISPR/Cas9, which allows precise editing of DNA, offers an exciting new avenue of treatment, if not cure, for rare diseases; up to 80% of which have a genetic component. This system allows the researcher to target any locus in the genome for cleavage with a short guide-RNA, as long as it precedes a highly ubiquitous NGG sequence motif. If a repair sequence is then also provided, such as a wild-type copy of the mutated gene, it can be incorporated by homology-directed repair (HDR), leading to gene correction. As both guide-RNA and repair template are easily generated, whilst the machinery for editing and delivery remain the same, this system could usher in the era of ‘personalised medicine’ and offer hope to those with rare genetic diseases. However, currently it is difficult to test the efficacy of CRISPR/Cas9 for gene correction, especially in vivo. Therefore, in my PhD I have developed a novel fluorescent reporter system which provides a rapid, visual read-out of both non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) and homology-directed repair (HDR) driven by CRISPR/Cas9. This system is built upon a cassette which is stably and heterozygously integrated into a ubiquitously expressed locus in the mouse genome. This cassette contains a strong hybrid promoter driving expression of membrane-tagged tdTomato, followed by a strong stop sequence, and then membrane-tagged EGFP. Unedited, this system drives strong expression of membrane-tdTomato in all cell types in the embryo and adult mouse. However, following the addition of CRISPR/Cas9 components, and upon cleavage, the tdTomato is rapidly excised, resulting via NHEJ either in cells without fluorescence (due to imperfect deletions) or with membrane-EGFP. If a repair template containing nuclear tagged-EGFP is also supplied, the editing machinery may then use the precise HDR pathway, which results in a rapid transition from membrane-tdTomato to nuclear- EGFP. Thereby this system allows the kinetics of editing to be visualised in real time and allows simple scoring of the proportion of cells which have been edited by NHEJ or corrected by HDR. It therefore provides a simple, fast and scalable manner to optimise reagents and protocols for gene correction by CRISPR/Cas9, especially compared to sequencing approaches, and will prove broadly useful to many researchers in the field. Further to this, I have shown that methods which lead to gene correction in our reporter system are also able to partially repair mutations found in the disease-causing gene, Zmynd10; which is implicated in the respiratory disorder primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD), for which there is no effective treatment. PCD is an autosomal-recessive rare disorder affecting motile cilia (MIM:244400), which results in impaired mucociliary clearance leading to neonatal respiratory distress and recurrent airway infections, often progressing to lung failure. Clinically, PCD is a chronic airway disease, similar to CF, with progressive deterioration of lung function and lower airway bacterial colonization. However, unlike CF which is monogenic, over 40 genes are known to cause PCD. The high genetic heterogeneity of this rare disease makes it well suited to such a genome editing strategy, which can be tailored for the correction of any mutated locus.