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1.  Structure and mechanism of the CMR complex for CRISPR-mediated antiviral immunity 
Molecular cell  2012;45(3):303-313.
Summary
The prokaryotic Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) system utilizes genomically-encoded CRISPR RNA (crRNA), derived from invading viruses and incorporated into ribonucleoprotein complexes with CRISPR-associated (CAS) proteins, to target and degrade viral DNA or RNA on subsequent infection. RNA is targeted by the CMR complex. In Sulfolobus solfataricus, this complex is composed of seven CAS protein subunits (Cmr1-7) and carries a diverse “payload” of targeting crRNA. The crystal structure of Cmr7 and low resolution structure of the complex are presented. S. solfataricus CMR cleaves RNA targets in an endonucleolytic reaction at UA dinucleotides. This activity is dependent on the 8-nucleotide repeat-derived 5′ sequence in the crRNA, but not on the presence of a proto-spacer associated motif (PAM) in the target. Both target and guide RNAs can be cleaved, although a single molecule of guide RNA can support the degradation of multiple targets.
doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2011.12.013
PMCID: PMC3381847  PMID: 22227115
2.  Interaction of the Cas6 riboendonuclease with CRISPR RNAs: recognition and cleavage 
The CRISPRs (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) found in prokaryotic genomes confer small RNA-mediated protection against viruses and other invaders. CRISPR loci contain iterations of a short repeat sequence alternating with small segments of varying invader-derived sequences. Distinct families of CRISPR-associated Cas proteins function to cleave within the repeat sequence of CRISPR transcripts and produce the individual invader-targeting crRNAs. Here we report the crystal structure of Pyrococcus furiosus Cas6 bound with a repeat RNA at 3.2 Å resolution. In contrast to other Cas families of endonucleases, Cas6 clasps nucleotides 2–9 of the repeat RNA using its two ferredoxin-like domains, and the enzyme-anchored 5’ end tethers the distal cleavage site of the RNA between nucleotides 22 and 23 to the predicted enzyme active site on the opposite side of the ferrodoxin-like domains. Our findings suggest a wrap-around mechanism for CRISPR RNA recognition and cleavage by Cas6 and related processing endonucleases.
doi:10.1016/j.str.2010.11.014
PMCID: PMC3154685  PMID: 21300293
3.  Type I-E CRISPR-Cas Systems Discriminate Target from Non-Target DNA through Base Pairing-Independent PAM Recognition 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(9):e1003742.
Discriminating self and non-self is a universal requirement of immune systems. Adaptive immune systems in prokaryotes are centered around repetitive loci called CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat), into which invader DNA fragments are incorporated. CRISPR transcripts are processed into small RNAs that guide CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to invading nucleic acids by complementary base pairing. However, to avoid autoimmunity it is essential that these RNA-guides exclusively target invading DNA and not complementary DNA sequences (i.e., self-sequences) located in the host's own CRISPR locus. Previous work on the Type III-A CRISPR system from Staphylococcus epidermidis has demonstrated that a portion of the CRISPR RNA-guide sequence is involved in self versus non-self discrimination. This self-avoidance mechanism relies on sensing base pairing between the RNA-guide and sequences flanking the target DNA. To determine if the RNA-guide participates in self versus non-self discrimination in the Type I-E system from Escherichia coli we altered base pairing potential between the RNA-guide and the flanks of DNA targets. Here we demonstrate that Type I-E systems discriminate self from non-self through a base pairing-independent mechanism that strictly relies on the recognition of four unchangeable PAM sequences. In addition, this work reveals that the first base pair between the guide RNA and the PAM nucleotide immediately flanking the target sequence can be disrupted without affecting the interference phenotype. Remarkably, this indicates that base pairing at this position is not involved in foreign DNA recognition. Results in this paper reveal that the Type I-E mechanism of avoiding self sequences and preventing autoimmunity is fundamentally different from that employed by Type III-A systems. We propose the exclusive targeting of PAM-flanked sequences to be termed a target versus non-target discrimination mechanism.
Author Summary
CRISPR loci and their associated genes form a diverse set of adaptive immune systems that are widespread among prokaryotes. In these systems, the CRISPR-associated genes (cas) encode for proteins that capture fragments of invading DNA and integrate these sequences between repeat sequences of the host's CRISPR locus. This information is used upon re-infection to degrade invader genomes. Storing invader sequences in host genomes necessitates a mechanism to differentiate between invader sequences on invader genomes and invader sequences on the host genome. CRISPR-Cas of Staphylococcus epidermidis (Type III-A system) is inhibited when invader sequences are flanked by repeat sequences, and this prevents targeting of the CRISPR locus on the host genome. Here we demonstrate that Escherichia coli CRISPR-Cas (Type I-E system) is not inhibited by repeat sequences. Instead, this system is specifically activated by the presence of bona fide Protospacer Adjacent Motifs (PAMs) in the target. PAMs are conserved sequences adjoining invader sequences on the invader genome, and these sequences are never adjacent to invader sequences within host CRISPR loci. PAM recognition is not affected by base pairing potential of the target with the crRNA. As such, the Type I-E system lacks the ability to specifically recognize self DNA.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003742
PMCID: PMC3764190  PMID: 24039596
4.  Cytotoxic Chromosomal Targeting by CRISPR/Cas Systems Can Reshape Bacterial Genomes and Expel or Remodel Pathogenicity Islands 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(4):e1003454.
In prokaryotes, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) and their associated (Cas) proteins constitute a defence system against bacteriophages and plasmids. CRISPR/Cas systems acquire short spacer sequences from foreign genetic elements and incorporate these into their CRISPR arrays, generating a memory of past invaders. Defence is provided by short non-coding RNAs that guide Cas proteins to cleave complementary nucleic acids. While most spacers are acquired from phages and plasmids, there are examples of spacers that match genes elsewhere in the host bacterial chromosome. In Pectobacterium atrosepticum the type I-F CRISPR/Cas system has acquired a self-complementary spacer that perfectly matches a protospacer target in a horizontally acquired island (HAI2) involved in plant pathogenicity. Given the paucity of experimental data about CRISPR/Cas–mediated chromosomal targeting, we examined this process by developing a tightly controlled system. Chromosomal targeting was highly toxic via targeting of DNA and resulted in growth inhibition and cellular filamentation. The toxic phenotype was avoided by mutations in the cas operon, the CRISPR repeats, the protospacer target, and protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM) beside the target. Indeed, the natural self-targeting spacer was non-toxic due to a single nucleotide mutation adjacent to the target in the PAM sequence. Furthermore, we show that chromosomal targeting can result in large-scale genomic alterations, including the remodelling or deletion of entire pre-existing pathogenicity islands. These features can be engineered for the targeted deletion of large regions of bacterial chromosomes. In conclusion, in DNA–targeting CRISPR/Cas systems, chromosomal interference is deleterious by causing DNA damage and providing a strong selective pressure for genome alterations, which may have consequences for bacterial evolution and pathogenicity.
Author Summary
Bacteria have evolved mechanisms that provide protection from continual invasion by viruses and other foreign elements. Resistance systems, known as CRISPR/Cas, were recently discovered and equip bacteria and archaea with an “adaptive immune system.” This adaptive immunity provides a highly evolvable sequence-specific small RNA–based memory of past invasions by viruses and foreign genetic elements. There are many cases where these systems appear to target regions within the bacterial host's own genome (a possible autoimmunity), but the evolutionary rationale for this is unclear. Here, we demonstrate that CRISPR/Cas targeting of the host chromosome is highly toxic but that cells survive through mutations that alleviate the immune mechanism. We have used this phenotype to gain insight into how these systems function and show that large changes in the bacterial genome can occur. For example, targeting of a chromosomal pathogenicity island, important for virulence of the potato pathogen Pectobacterium atrosepticum, resulted in deletion of the island, which constituted ∼2% of the bacterial genome. These results have broad significance for the role of CRISPR/Cas systems and their impact on the evolution of bacterial genomes and virulence. In addition, this study demonstrates their potential as a tool for the targeted deletion of specific regions of bacterial chromosomes.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003454
PMCID: PMC3630108  PMID: 23637624
5.  CRISPR/Cas systems in archaea 
Mobile Genetic Elements  2012;2(1):63-64.
CRISPR (Clustered, Regularly, Interspaced, Short, Palindromic Repeats) loci have been shown to provide prokaryotes with an adaptive immunity against viruses and plasmids. CRISPR arrays are transcribed and processed into small CRISPR RNA molecules, which base-pair with invading DNA or RNA and lead to its degradation by CRISPR-associated (Cas) protein complexes. New spacers can be acquired by active CRISPR/Cas systems, and thus the sequences of these spacers provide a record of the past “infection history” of the organism. Recently we used spacer sequences from archaeal genomes to infer gene exchange events among archaeal species and genera and to demonstrate that at least in this domain of life CRISPR indeed has an anti-viral role.
doi:10.4161/mge.19907
PMCID: PMC3383453  PMID: 22754756
CRISPR; Lateral Gene Transfer; archaea; horizontal gene transfer; viruses
6.  Structure of the Cmr2-Cmr3 Subcomplex of the Cmr RNA Silencing Complex 
Summary
The Cmr complex is an RNA-guided effector complex that cleaves invader RNA in the prokaryotic immune response mediated by the CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat)-Cas system. Here we report the crystal structure of a Cmr subcomplex containing Cmr2 (Cas10) and Cmr3 subunits at 2.8 Å resolution. The structure revealed a dual Ferredoxin fold and glycine-rich loops characteristic of previously known repeat-associated mysterious proteins (RAMPs) and two unique insertion elements in Cmr3 that mediate its interaction with Cmr2. Surprisingly, while mutation of both insertion elements significantly weakened Cmr3-Cmr2 interaction, they exhibit differential effects on Cmr-mediated RNA cleavage by the Cmr complex, suggesting stabilization of Cmr2-Cmr3 interactions by other subunits. Further mutational analysis of the two conserved (but non-Cmr2-binding) glycine-rich loops of Cmr3 identified a region that is likely involved in assembly or the RNA cleavage function of the Cmr complex.
doi:10.1016/j.str.2013.01.002
PMCID: PMC3606058  PMID: 23395183
7.  CRISPR interference: a structural perspective 
Biochemical Journal  2013;453(Pt 2):155-166.
CRISPR (cluster of regularly interspaced palindromic repeats) is a prokaryotic adaptive defence system, providing immunity against mobile genetic elements such as viruses. Genomically encoded crRNA (CRISPR RNA) is used by Cas (CRISPR-associated) proteins to target and subsequently degrade nucleic acids of invading entities in a sequence-dependent manner. The process is known as ‘interference’. In the present review we cover recent progress on the structural biology of the CRISPR/Cas system, focusing on the Cas proteins and complexes that catalyse crRNA biogenesis and interference. Structural studies have helped in the elucidation of key mechanisms, including the recognition and cleavage of crRNA by the Cas6 and Cas5 proteins, where remarkable diversity at the level of both substrate recognition and catalysis has become apparent. The RNA-binding RAMP (repeat-associated mysterious protein) domain is present in the Cas5, Cas6, Cas7 and Cmr3 protein families and RAMP-like domains are found in Cas2 and Cas10. Structural analysis has also revealed an evolutionary link between the small subunits of the type I and type III-B interference complexes. Future studies of the interference complexes and their constituent components will transform our understanding of the system.
doi:10.1042/BJ20130316
PMCID: PMC3727216  PMID: 23805973
antiviral defence; cluster of regularly interspaced palindromic repeats (CRISPR); crystallography; evolution; protein structure; repeat-associated mysterious protein (RAMP); BhCas5c, Bacillus halodurans Cas5c; CRISPR, cluster of regularly interspaced palindromic repeats; Cas, CRISPR-associated; Cascade, CRISPR-associated complex for antiviral defence; crRNA, CRISPR RNA; dsDNA, double-stranded DNA; EcoCas3, Escherichia coli Cas3; EM, electron microscopy; HD, histidine–aspartate; MjaCas3″, Methanocaldococcus jannaschii Cas3″; PaCas6f, Pseudomonas aeruginosa Cas6f; PAM, protospacer adjacent motif; PfuCas, Pyrococcus furiosus Cas; pre-crRNA, precursor crRNA; RAMP, repeat-associated mysterious protein; RRM, RNA recognition motif; ssDNA, single-stranded DNA; SsoCas, Sulfolobus solfataricus Cas; ssRNA, single-stranded RNA; SthCas3, Streptococcus thermophilus Cas3; tracrRNA, trans-activating crRNA; TtCas, Thermus thermophilus Cas
8.  Essential features and rational design of CRISPR RNAs that function with the Cas RAMP module complex to cleave RNAs 
Molecular Cell  2012;45(3):292-302.
SUMMARY
Small RNAs target invaders for silencing in the CRISPR-Cas pathways that protect bacteria and archaea from viruses and plasmids. The CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) contain sequence elements acquired from invaders that guide CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins back to the complementary invading DNA or RNA. Here, we have analyzed essential features of the crRNAs associated with the Cas RAMP module (Cmr) effector complex, which cleaves targeted RNAs. We show that Cmr crRNAs contain an 8-nucleotide 5’ sequence tag (also found on crRNAs associated with other CRISPR-Cas pathways) that is critical for crRNA function and can be used to engineer crRNAs that direct cleavage of novel targets. We also present data that indicates that the Cmr complex cleaves an endogenous complementary RNA in Pyrococcus furiosus, providing direct in vivo evidence of RNA targeting by the CRISPR-Cas system. Our findings indicate that the CRISPR RNA-Cmr protein pathway may be exploited to cleave RNAs of interest.
doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2011.10.023
PMCID: PMC3278580  PMID: 22227116
9.  A Complex of Cas Proteins 5, 6, and 7 Is Required for the Biogenesis and Stability of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-derived RNAs (crRNAs) in Haloferax volcanii* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2014;289(10):7164-7177.
Background: The Cas6 protein is required for generating crRNAs in CRISPR-Cas I and III systems.
Results: The Cas6 protein is necessary for crRNA production but not sufficient for crRNA maintenance in Haloferax.
Conclusion: A Cascade-like complex is required in the type I-B system for a stable crRNA population.
Significance: The CRISPR-Cas system I-B has a similar Cascade complex like types I-A and I-E.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated (CRISPR-Cas) system is a prokaryotic defense mechanism against foreign genetic elements. A plethora of CRISPR-Cas versions exist, with more than 40 different Cas protein families and several different molecular approaches to fight the invading DNA. One of the key players in the system is the CRISPR-derived RNA (crRNA), which directs the invader-degrading Cas protein complex to the invader. The CRISPR-Cas types I and III use the Cas6 protein to generate mature crRNAs. Here, we show that the Cas6 protein is necessary for crRNA production but that additional Cas proteins that form a CRISPR-associated complex for antiviral defense (Cascade)-like complex are needed for crRNA stability in the CRISPR-Cas type I-B system in Haloferax volcanii in vivo. Deletion of the cas6 gene results in the loss of mature crRNAs and interference. However, cells that have the complete cas gene cluster (cas1–8b) removed and are transformed with the cas6 gene are not able to produce and stably maintain mature crRNAs. crRNA production and stability is rescued only if cas5, -6, and -7 are present. Mutational analysis of the cas6 gene reveals three amino acids (His-41, Gly-256, and Gly-258) that are essential for pre-crRNA cleavage, whereas the mutation of two amino acids (Ser-115 and Ser-224) leads to an increase of crRNA amounts. This is the first systematic in vivo analysis of Cas6 protein variants. In addition, we show that the H. volcanii I-B system contains a Cascade-like complex with a Cas7, Cas5, and Cas6 core that protects the crRNA.
doi:10.1074/jbc.M113.508184
PMCID: PMC3945376  PMID: 24459147
Archaea; Microbiology; Molecular Biology; Molecular Genetics; Protein Complexes; CRISPR/Cas; Cas6; Haloferax volcanii; crRNA; Type I-B
10.  Characterization of CRISPR RNA processing in Clostridium thermocellum and Methanococcus maripaludis  
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(19):9887-9896.
The CRISPR arrays found in many bacteria and most archaea are transcribed into a long precursor RNA that is processed into small clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) RNAs (crRNAs). These RNA molecules can contain fragments of viral genomes and mediate, together with a set of CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins, the prokaryotic immunity against viral attacks. CRISPR/Cas systems are diverse and the Cas6 enzymes that process crRNAs vary between different subtypes. We analysed CRISPR/Cas subtype I-B and present the identification of novel Cas6 enzymes from the bacterial and archaeal model organisms Clostridium thermocellum and Methanococcus maripaludis C5. Methanococcus maripaludis Cas6b in vitro activity and specificity was determined. Two complementary catalytic histidine residues were identified. RNA-Seq analyses revealed in vivo crRNA processing sites, crRNA abundance and orientation of CRISPR transcription within these two organisms. Individual spacer sequences were identified with strong effects on transcription and processing patterns of a CRISPR cluster. These effects will need to be considered for the application of CRISPR clusters that are designed to produce synthetic crRNAs.
doi:10.1093/nar/gks737
PMCID: PMC3479195  PMID: 22879377
11.  Function and Regulation of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) / CRISPR Associated (Cas) Systems 
Viruses  2012;4(10):2291-2311.
Phages are the most abundant biological entities on earth and pose a constant challenge to their bacterial hosts. Thus, bacteria have evolved numerous ‘innate’ mechanisms of defense against phage, such as abortive infection or restriction/modification systems. In contrast, the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) systems provide acquired, yet heritable, sequence-specific ‘adaptive’ immunity against phage and other horizontally-acquired elements, such as plasmids. Resistance is acquired following viral infection or plasmid uptake when a short sequence of the foreign genome is added to the CRISPR array. CRISPRs are then transcribed and processed, generally by CRISPR associated (Cas) proteins, into short interfering RNAs (crRNAs), which form part of a ribonucleoprotein complex. This complex guides the crRNA to the complementary invading nucleic acid and targets this for degradation. Recently, there have been rapid advances in our understanding of CRISPR/Cas systems. In this review, we will present the current model(s) of the molecular events involved in both the acquisition of immunity and interference stages and will also address recent progress in our knowledge of the regulation of CRISPR/Cas systems.
doi:10.3390/v4102291
PMCID: PMC3497052  PMID: 23202464
phages; plasmids; horizontal gene transfer; CRISPR; Cas; cascade; PAM; crRNA; resistance
12.  Structure and RNA-binding properties of the Type III-A CRISPR-associated protein Csm3 
RNA Biology  2013;10(11):1670-1678.
The prokaryotic adaptive immune system is based on the incorporation of genome fragments of invading viral genetic elements into clusters of regulatory interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs). The CRISPR loci are transcribed and processed into crRNAs, which are then used to target the invading nucleic acid for degradation. The large family of CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins mediates this interference response. We have characterized Methanopyrus kandleri Csm3, a protein of the type III-A CRISPR-Cas complex. The 2.4 Å resolution crystal structure shows an elaborate four-domain fold organized around a core RRM-like domain. The overall architecture highlights the structural homology to Cas7, the Cas protein that forms the backbone of type I interference complexes. Csm3 binds unstructured RNAs in a sequence non-specific manner, suggesting that it interacts with the variable spacer sequence of the crRNA. The structural and biochemical data provide insights into the similarities and differences in this group of Cas proteins.
doi:10.4161/rna.26500
PMCID: PMC3907477  PMID: 24157656
RAMP; RRM domain; ferredoxin domain; Cas7; adaptive immunity
13.  CRISPR Interference Directs Strand Specific Spacer Acquisition 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35888.
Background
CRISPR/Cas is a widespread adaptive immune system in prokaryotes. This system integrates short stretches of DNA derived from invading nucleic acids into genomic CRISPR loci, which function as memory of previously encountered invaders. In Escherichia coli, transcripts of these loci are cleaved into small RNAs and utilized by the Cascade complex to bind invader DNA, which is then likely degraded by Cas3 during CRISPR interference.
Results
We describe how a CRISPR-activated E. coli K12 is cured from a high copy number plasmid under non-selective conditions in a CRISPR-mediated way. Cured clones integrated at least one up to five anti-plasmid spacers in genomic CRISPR loci. New spacers are integrated directly downstream of the leader sequence. The spacers are non-randomly selected to target protospacers with an AAG protospacer adjacent motif, which is located directly upstream of the protospacer. A co-occurrence of PAM deviations and CRISPR repeat mutations was observed, indicating that one nucleotide from the PAM is incorporated as the last nucleotide of the repeat during integration of a new spacer. When multiple spacers were integrated in a single clone, all spacer targeted the same strand of the plasmid, implying that CRISPR interference caused by the first integrated spacer directs subsequent spacer acquisition events in a strand specific manner.
Conclusions
The E. coli Type I-E CRISPR/Cas system provides resistance against bacteriophage infection, but also enables removal of residing plasmids. We established that there is a positive feedback loop between active spacers in a cluster – in our case the first acquired spacer - and spacers acquired thereafter, possibly through the use of specific DNA degradation products of the CRISPR interference machinery by the CRISPR adaptation machinery. This loop enables a rapid expansion of the spacer repertoire against an actively present DNA element that is already targeted, amplifying the CRISPR interference effect.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035888
PMCID: PMC3338789  PMID: 22558257
14.  Programmable Removal of Bacterial Strains by Use of Genome-Targeting CRISPR-Cas Systems 
mBio  2014;5(1):e00928-13.
ABSTRACT
CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-Cas (CRISPR-associated) systems in bacteria and archaea employ CRISPR RNAs to specifically recognize the complementary DNA of foreign invaders, leading to sequence-specific cleavage or degradation of the target DNA. Recent work has shown that the accidental or intentional targeting of the bacterial genome is cytotoxic and can lead to cell death. Here, we have demonstrated that genome targeting with CRISPR-Cas systems can be employed for the sequence-specific and titratable removal of individual bacterial strains and species. Using the type I-E CRISPR-Cas system in Escherichia coli as a model, we found that this effect could be elicited using native or imported systems and was similarly potent regardless of the genomic location, strand, or transcriptional activity of the target sequence. Furthermore, the specificity of targeting with CRISPR RNAs could readily distinguish between even highly similar strains in pure or mixed cultures. Finally, varying the collection of delivered CRISPR RNAs could quantitatively control the relative number of individual strains within a mixed culture. Critically, the observed selectivity and programmability of bacterial removal would be virtually impossible with traditional antibiotics, bacteriophages, selectable markers, or tailored growth conditions. Once delivery challenges are addressed, we envision that this approach could offer a novel means to quantitatively control the composition of environmental and industrial microbial consortia and may open new avenues for the development of “smart” antibiotics that circumvent multidrug resistance and differentiate between pathogenic and beneficial microorganisms.
IMPORTANCE
Controlling the composition of microbial populations is a critical aspect in medicine, biotechnology, and environmental cycles. While different antimicrobial strategies, such as antibiotics, antimicrobial peptides, and lytic bacteriophages, offer partial solutions, what remains elusive is a generalized and programmable strategy that can distinguish between even closely related microorganisms and that allows for fine control over the composition of a microbial population. This study demonstrates that RNA-directed immune systems in bacteria and archaea called CRISPR-Cas systems can provide such a strategy. These systems can be employed to selectively and quantitatively remove individual bacterial strains based purely on sequence information, creating opportunities in the treatment of multidrug-resistant infections, the control of industrial fermentations, and the study of microbial consortia.
doi:10.1128/mBio.00928-13
PMCID: PMC3903277  PMID: 24473129
15.  Expanding the catalog of cas genes with metagenomes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(4):2448-2459.
The CRISPR (clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)–Cas adaptive immune system is an important defense system in bacteria, providing targeted defense against invasions of foreign nucleic acids. CRISPR–Cas systems consist of CRISPR loci and cas (CRISPR-associated) genes: sequence segments of invaders are incorporated into host genomes at CRISPR loci to generate specificity, while adjacent cas genes encode proteins that mediate the defense process. We pursued an integrated approach to identifying putative cas genes from genomes and metagenomes, combining similarity searches with genomic neighborhood analysis. Application of our approach to bacterial genomes and human microbiome datasets allowed us to significantly expand the collection of cas genes: the sequence space of the Cas9 family, the key player in the recently engineered RNA-guided platforms for genome editing in eukaryotes, is expanded by at least two-fold with metagenomic datasets. We found genes in cas loci encoding other functions, for example, toxins and antitoxins, confirming the recently discovered potential of coupling between adaptive immunity and the dormancy/suicide systems. We further identified 24 novel Cas families; one novel family contains 20 proteins, all identified from the human microbiome datasets, illustrating the importance of metagenomics projects in expanding the diversity of cas genes.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkt1262
PMCID: PMC3936711  PMID: 24319142
16.  Exploiting CRISPR/Cas: Interference Mechanisms and Applications 
The discovery of biological concepts can often provide a framework for the development of novel molecular tools, which can help us to further understand and manipulate life. One recent example is the elucidation of the prokaryotic adaptive immune system, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) that protects bacteria and archaea against viruses or conjugative plasmids. The immunity is based on small RNA molecules that are incorporated into versatile multi-domain proteins or protein complexes and specifically target viral nucleic acids via base complementarity. CRISPR/Cas interference machines are utilized to develop novel genome editing tools for different organisms. Here, we will review the latest progress in the elucidation and application of prokaryotic CRISPR/Cas systems and discuss possible future approaches to exploit the potential of these interference machineries.
doi:10.3390/ijms140714518
PMCID: PMC3742257  PMID: 23857052
CRISPR; crRNA; Cas9; Cascade; interference; genome editing; RGEN; TALEN; ZNF
17.  Self vs. non-self discrimination during CRISPR RNA-directed immunity 
Nature  2010;463(7280):568-571.
All immune systems must distinguish self from non-self to repel invaders without inducing autoimmunity. Clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) loci protect bacteria and archaea from invasion by phage and plasmid DNA through a genetic interference pathway1–9. CRISPR loci are present in ~ 40% and ~90% of sequenced bacterial and archaeal genomes respectively10 and evolve rapidly, acquiring new spacer sequences to adapt to highly dynamic viral populations1, 11–13. Immunity requires a sequence match between the invasive DNA and the spacers that lie between CRISPR repeats1–9. Each cluster is genetically linked to a subset of the cas (CRISPR-associated) genes14–16 that collectively encode >40 families of proteins involved in adaptation and interference. CRISPR loci encode small CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) that contain a full spacer flanked by partial repeat sequences2, 17–19. CrRNA spacers are thought to identify targets by direct Watson-Crick pairing with invasive “protospacer” DNA2, 3, but how they avoid targeting the spacer DNA within the encoding CRISPR locus itself is unknown. Here we have defined the mechanism of CRISPR self/non-self discrimination. In Staphylococcus epidermidis, target/crRNA mismatches at specific positions outside of the spacer sequence license foreign DNA for interference, whereas extended pairing between crRNA and CRISPR DNA repeats prevents autoimmunity. Hence, this CRISPR system uses the base-pairing potential of crRNAs not only to specify a target but also to spare the bacterial chromosome from interference. Differential complementarity outside of the spacer sequence is a built-in feature of all CRISPR systems, suggesting that this mechanism is a broadly applicable solution to the self/non-self dilemma that confronts all immune pathways.
doi:10.1038/nature08703
PMCID: PMC2813891  PMID: 20072129
18.  CRISPR transcript processing: a mechanism for generating a large number of small interfering RNAs 
Biology Direct  2012;7:24.
Background
CRISPR/Cas (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats/CRISPR associated sequences) is a recently discovered prokaryotic defense system against foreign DNA, including viruses and plasmids. CRISPR cassette is transcribed as a continuous transcript (pre-crRNA), which is processed by Cas proteins into small RNA molecules (crRNAs) that are responsible for defense against invading viruses. Experiments in E. coli report that overexpression of cas genes generates a large number of crRNAs, from only few pre-crRNAs.
Results
We here develop a minimal model of CRISPR processing, which we parameterize based on available experimental data. From the model, we show that the system can generate a large amount of crRNAs, based on only a small decrease in the amount of pre-crRNAs. The relationship between the decrease of pre-crRNAs and the increase of crRNAs corresponds to strong linear amplification. Interestingly, this strong amplification crucially depends on fast non-specific degradation of pre-crRNA by an unidentified nuclease. We show that overexpression of cas genes above a certain level does not result in further increase of crRNA, but that this saturation can be relieved if the rate of CRISPR transcription is increased. We furthermore show that a small increase of CRISPR transcription rate can substantially decrease the extent of cas gene activation necessary to achieve a desired amount of crRNA.
Conclusions
The simple mathematical model developed here is able to explain existing experimental observations on CRISPR transcript processing in Escherichia coli. The model shows that a competition between specific pre-crRNA processing and non-specific degradation determines the steady-state levels of crRNA and is responsible for strong linear amplification of crRNAs when cas genes are overexpressed. The model further shows how disappearance of only a few pre-crRNA molecules normally present in the cell can lead to a large (two orders of magnitude) increase of crRNAs upon cas overexpression. A crucial ingredient of this large increase is fast non-specific degradation by an unspecified nuclease, which suggests that a yet unidentified nuclease(s) is a major control element of CRISPR response. Transcriptional regulation may be another important control mechanism, as it can either increase the amount of generated pre-crRNA, or alter the level of cas gene activity.
Reviewers
This article was reviewed by Mikhail Gelfand, Eugene Koonin and L Aravind.
doi:10.1186/1745-6150-7-24
PMCID: PMC3537551  PMID: 22849651
CRISPR/Cas; Transcript processing; Small RNA; CRISPR expression regulation; CRISPR/Cas response
19.  CRISPR-spacer integration reporter plasmids reveal distinct genuine acquisition specificities among CRISPR-Cas I-E variants of Escherichia coli 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):792-802.
Prokaryotes immunize themselves against transmissible genetic elements by the integration (acquisition) in clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) loci of spacers homologous to invader nucleic acids, defined as protospacers. Following acquisition, mono-spacer CRISPR RNAs (termed crRNAs) guide CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins to degrade (interference) protospacers flanked by an adjacent motif in extrachomosomal DNA. During acquisition, selection of spacer-precursors adjoining the protospacer motif and proper orientation of the integrated fragment with respect to the leader (sequence leading transcription of the flanking CRISPR array) grant efficient interference by at least some CRISPR-Cas systems. This adaptive stage of the CRISPR action is poorly characterized, mainly due to the lack of appropriate genetic strategies to address its study and, at least in Escherichia coli, the need of Cas overproduction for insertion detection. In this work, we describe the development and application in Escherichia coli strains of an interference-independent assay based on engineered selectable CRISPR-spacer integration reporter plasmids. By using this tool without the constraint of interference or cas overexpression, we confirmed fundamental aspects of this process such as the critical requirement of Cas1 and Cas2 and the identity of the CTT protospacer motif for the E. coli K12 system. In addition, we defined the CWT motif for a non-K12 CRISPR-Cas variant, and obtained data supporting the implication of the leader in spacer orientation, the preferred acquisition from plasmids harboring cas genes and the occurrence of a sequential cleavage at the insertion site by a ruler mechanism.
doi:10.4161/rna.24023
PMCID: PMC3737337  PMID: 23445770
CRISPR-spacer acquisition; Cascade; Escherichia coli K12; O157:H7; RNA-guided immunity; cas genes; protospacer adjacent motif; reporter plasmids; ruler mechanism; spacer orientation
20.  Envelope stress is a trigger of CRISPR RNA-mediated DNA silencing in Escherichia coli 
Molecular microbiology  2010;79(3):584-599.
SUMMARY
A widespread feature in the genomes of most bacteria and archaea is an array of clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) that, together with a group of CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins, mediate immunity against invasive nucleic acids such as plasmids and viruses. Here, the CRISPR-Cas system was activated in cells expressing a plasmid-encoded protein that was targeted to the twin-arginine translocation (Tat) pathway. Expression of this Tat substrate resulted in upregulation of the Cas enzymes and subsequent silencing of the encoding plasmid in a manner that required the BaeSR two-component regulatotory system, which is known to respond to extracytoplasmic stress. Further, we confirm that the CasCDE enzymes form a stable ternary complex and appear to function as the catalytic core of the Cas system to process CRISPR RNA into its mature form. Taken together, our results indicate that the CRISPR-Cas system targets DNA directly as part of a defense mechanism in bacteria that is overlapping with but not limited to phage infection.
doi:10.1111/j.1365-2958.2010.07482.x
PMCID: PMC3040579  PMID: 21255106
21.  Structure of a dimeric crenarchaeal Cas6 enzyme with an atypical active site for CRISPR RNA processing 
Biochemical Journal  2013;452(Pt 2):223-230.
The competition between viruses and hosts is played out in all branches of life. Many prokaryotes have an adaptive immune system termed ‘CRISPR’ (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) which is based on the capture of short pieces of viral DNA. The captured DNA is integrated into the genomic DNA of the organism flanked by direct repeats, transcribed and processed to generate crRNA (CRISPR RNA) that is loaded into a variety of effector complexes. These complexes carry out sequence-specific detection and destruction of invading mobile genetic elements. In the present paper, we report the structure and activity of a Cas6 (CRISPR-associated 6) enzyme (Sso1437) from Sulfolobus solfataricus responsible for the generation of unit-length crRNA species. The crystal structure reveals an unusual dimeric organization that is important for the enzyme's activity. In addition, the active site lacks the canonical catalytic histidine residue that has been viewed as an essential feature of the Cas6 family. Although several residues contribute towards catalysis, none is absolutely essential. Coupled with the very low catalytic rate constants of the Cas6 family and the plasticity of the active site, this suggests that the crRNA recognition and chaperone-like activities of the Cas6 family should be considered as equal to or even more important than their role as traditional enzymes.
doi:10.1042/BJ20130269
PMCID: PMC3652601  PMID: 23527601
antiviral defence; Cas6; clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR); ribonuclease; Sulfolobus; CRISPR, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats; Cas, CRISPR-associated; crRNA, CRISPR RNA; Ni-NTA, Ni2+-nitrilotriacetate; PaCas6f, Pseudomonas aeruginosa Cas6; PfuCas6, Pyrococcus furiosus Cas6; RAMP, repeat-associated mysterious protein; RMSD, root mean square deviation; RRM, RNA-recognition motif; SAD, single-wavelength anomalous dispersion; SsoCas6, Sulfolobus solfataricus Cas6; TBE, Tris/borate/EDTA; TEV, tobacco etch virus; TtCas6e, Thermus thermophilus Cas6
22.  CRISPR-Based Adaptive Immune Systems 
Current opinion in microbiology  2011;14(3):321-327.
CRISPR-Cas systems are recently discovered, RNA-based immune systems that control invasions of viruses and plasmids in archaea and bacteria. Prokaryotes with CRISPR-Cas immune systems capture short invader sequences within the CRISPR loci in their genomes, and small RNAs produced from the CRISPR loci (CRISPR (cr)RNAs) guide Cas proteins to recognize and degrade (or otherwise silence) the invading nucleic acids. There are multiple variations of the pathway found among prokaryotes, each mediated by largely distinct components and mechanisms that we are only beginning to delineate. Here we will review our current understanding of the remarkable CRISPR-Cas pathways with particular attention to studies relevant to systems found in the archaea.
doi:10.1016/j.mib.2011.03.005
PMCID: PMC3119747  PMID: 21531607
23.  Viral Diversity Threshold for Adaptive Immunity in Prokaryotes 
mBio  2012;3(6):e00456-12.
ABSTRACT
Bacteria and archaea face continual onslaughts of rapidly diversifying viruses and plasmids. Many prokaryotes maintain adaptive immune systems known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated genes (Cas). CRISPR-Cas systems are genomic sensors that serially acquire viral and plasmid DNA fragments (spacers) that are utilized to target and cleave matching viral and plasmid DNA in subsequent genomic invasions, offering critical immunological memory. Only 50% of sequenced bacteria possess CRISPR-Cas immunity, in contrast to over 90% of sequenced archaea. To probe why half of bacteria lack CRISPR-Cas immunity, we combined comparative genomics and mathematical modeling. Analysis of hundreds of diverse prokaryotic genomes shows that CRISPR-Cas systems are substantially more prevalent in thermophiles than in mesophiles. With sequenced bacteria disproportionately mesophilic and sequenced archaea mostly thermophilic, the presence of CRISPR-Cas appears to depend more on environmental temperature than on bacterial-archaeal taxonomy. Mutation rates are typically severalfold higher in mesophilic prokaryotes than in thermophilic prokaryotes. To quantitatively test whether accelerated viral mutation leads microbes to lose CRISPR-Cas systems, we developed a stochastic model of virus-CRISPR coevolution. The model competes CRISPR-Cas-positive (CRISPR-Cas+) prokaryotes against CRISPR-Cas-negative (CRISPR-Cas−) prokaryotes, continually weighing the antiviral benefits conferred by CRISPR-Cas immunity against its fitness costs. Tracking this cost-benefit analysis across parameter space reveals viral mutation rate thresholds beyond which CRISPR-Cas cannot provide sufficient immunity and is purged from host populations. These results offer a simple, testable viral diversity hypothesis to explain why mesophilic bacteria disproportionately lack CRISPR-Cas immunity. More generally, fundamental limits on the adaptability of biological sensors (Lamarckian evolution) are predicted.
IMPORTANCE
A remarkable recent discovery in microbiology is that bacteria and archaea possess systems conferring immunological memory and adaptive immunity. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated genes (CRISPR-Cas) are genomic sensors that allow prokaryotes to acquire DNA fragments from invading viruses and plasmids. Providing immunological memory, these stored fragments destroy matching DNA in future viral and plasmid invasions. CRISPR-Cas systems also provide adaptive immunity, keeping up with mutating viruses and plasmids by continually acquiring new DNA fragments. Surprisingly, less than 50% of mesophilic bacteria, in contrast to almost 90% of thermophilic bacteria and Archaea, maintain CRISPR-Cas immunity. Using mathematical modeling, we probe this dichotomy, showing how increased viral mutation rates can explain the reduced prevalence of CRISPR-Cas systems in mesophiles. Rapidly mutating viruses outrun CRISPR-Cas immune systems, likely decreasing their prevalence in bacterial populations. Thus, viral adaptability may select against, rather than for, immune adaptability in prokaryotes.
doi:10.1128/mBio.00456-12
PMCID: PMC3517865  PMID: 23221803
24.  Sequence- and structure-specific RNA processing by a CRISPR endonuclease 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2010;329(5997):1355-1358.
Many prokaryotes contain genomic clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) that confer resistance to invasive genetic elements. Central to this immune system is the production of CRISPR-derived RNAs (crRNAs) following transcription of the CRISPR locus. Here we identify the endoribonuclease (Csy4) responsible for pre-crRNA processing in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. A 1.8 Å crystal structure of Csy4 in complex with its cognate RNA reveals an unexpected recognition mechanism whereby Csy4 makes sequence-specific interactions in the major groove of the CRISPR repeat stem-loop. Together with electrostatic contacts to the phosphate backbone, these enable Csy4 to selectively bind and cleave pre-crRNAs. The active site of Csy4 comprises two invariant residues, a serine and a histidine. The RNA recognition mechanism identified here explains sequence- and structure-specific processing by a large family of CRISPR-specific endoribonucleases.
doi:10.1126/science.1192272
PMCID: PMC3133607  PMID: 20829488
25.  Recognition and Cleavage of a non-structured CRISPR RNA by its Processing Endoribonuclease Cas6 
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPRs) confer adaptive immunity to prokaryotes through a small RNA-mediated mechanism. Specific endoribonucleases are required by all CRISPR-bearing organisms to process CRISPR RNAs into small RNA that serve as guides for defensive effector complexes. The molecular mechanism of how the endoribonucleases process the class of CRISPR RNA containing no secondary structural features remains largely elusive. Here we report cocrystal structures of a processing endoribonuclease bound with a noncleavable RNA substrate and its product-like fragment derived from a nonpalindramic repeat. The enzyme stabilizes a short RNA stem-loop structure near the cleavage site and cleaves the phosphodiester bond using an active site comprised of arginine and lysine residues. The distinct RNA binding and cleavage mechanisms underline the diversity in CRISPR RNA processing.
doi:10.1016/j.str.2013.01.010
PMCID: PMC3640268  PMID: 23454186

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