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1.  Substrate Generation for Endonucleases of CRISPR/Cas Systems 
The interaction of viruses and their prokaryotic hosts shaped the evolution of bacterial and archaeal life. Prokaryotes developed several strategies to evade viral attacks that include restriction modification, abortive infection and CRISPR/Cas systems. These adaptive immune systems found in many Bacteria and most Archaea consist of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) sequences and a number of CRISPR associated (Cas) genes (Fig. 1)1-3. Different sets of Cas proteins and repeats define at least three major divergent types of CRISPR/Cas systems 4. The universal proteins Cas1 and Cas2 are proposed to be involved in the uptake of viral DNA that will generate a new spacer element between two repeats at the 5' terminus of an extending CRISPR cluster 5. The entire cluster is transcribed into a precursor-crRNA containing all spacer and repeat sequences and is subsequently processed by an enzyme of the diverse Cas6 family into smaller crRNAs 6-8. These crRNAs consist of the spacer sequence flanked by a 5' terminal (8 nucleotides) and a 3' terminal tag derived from the repeat sequence 9. A repeated infection of the virus can now be blocked as the new crRNA will be directed by a Cas protein complex (Cascade) to the viral DNA and identify it as such via base complementarity10. Finally, for CRISPR/Cas type 1 systems, the nuclease Cas3 will destroy the detected invader DNA 11,12 .
These processes define CRISPR/Cas as an adaptive immune system of prokaryotes and opened a fascinating research field for the study of the involved Cas proteins. The function of many Cas proteins is still elusive and the causes for the apparent diversity of the CRISPR/Cas systems remain to be illuminated. Potential activities of most Cas proteins were predicted via detailed computational analyses. A major fraction of Cas proteins are either shown or proposed to function as endonucleases 4.
Here, we present methods to generate crRNAs and precursor-cRNAs for the study of Cas endoribonucleases. Different endonuclease assays require either short repeat sequences that can directly be synthesized as RNA oligonucleotides or longer crRNA and pre-crRNA sequences that are generated via in vitro T7 RNA polymerase run-off transcription. This methodology allows the incorporation of radioactive nucleotides for the generation of internally labeled endonuclease substrates and the creation of synthetic or mutant crRNAs. Cas6 endonuclease activity is utilized to mature pre-crRNAs into crRNAs with 5'-hydroxyl and a 2',3'-cyclic phosphate termini.
doi:10.3791/4277
PMCID: PMC3490271  PMID: 22986408
Molecular biology; Issue 67; CRISPR/Cas; endonuclease;  in vitro transcription; crRNA; Cas6
2.  Comparative analysis of Cas6b processing and CRISPR RNA stability 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):700-707.
The prokaryotic antiviral defense systems CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/Cas (CRISPR-associated) employs short crRNAs (CRISPR RNAs) to target invading viral nucleic acids. A short spacer sequence of these crRNAs can be derived from a viral genome and recognizes a reoccurring attack of a virus via base complementarity. We analyzed the effect of spacer sequences on the maturation of crRNAs of the subtype I-B Methanococcus maripaludis C5 CRISPR cluster. The responsible endonuclease, termed Cas6b, bound non-hydrolyzable repeat RNA as a dimer and mature crRNA as a monomer. Comparative analysis of Cas6b processing of individual spacer-repeat-spacer RNA substrates and crRNA stability revealed the potential influence of spacer sequence and length on these parameters. Correlation of these observations with the variable abundance of crRNAs visualized by deep-sequencing analyses is discussed. Finally, insertion of spacer and repeat sequences with archaeal poly-T termination signals is suggested to be prevented in archaeal CRISPR/Cas systems.
doi:10.4161/rna.23715
PMCID: PMC3737328  PMID: 23392318
CRISPR; Cas6; endonuclease; crRNA; in-line probing; RNA binding; transcription termination
3.  CRISPR-Cas Systems in the Cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 Exhibit Distinct Processing Pathways Involving at Least Two Cas6 and a Cmr2 Protein 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56470.
The CRISPR-Cas (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindrome Repeats – CRISPR associated proteins) system provides adaptive immunity in archaea and bacteria. A hallmark of CRISPR-Cas is the involvement of short crRNAs that guide associated proteins in the destruction of invading DNA or RNA. We present three fundamentally distinct processing pathways in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 for a subtype I-D (CRISPR1), and two type III systems (CRISPR2 and CRISPR3), which are located together on the plasmid pSYSA. Using high-throughput transcriptome analyses and assays of transcript accumulation we found all CRISPR loci to be highly expressed, but the individual crRNAs had profoundly varying abundances despite single transcription start sites for each array. In a computational analysis, CRISPR3 spacers with stable secondary structures displayed a greater ratio of degradation products. These structures might interfere with the loading of the crRNAs into RNP complexes, explaining the varying abundancies. The maturation of CRISPR1 and CRISPR2 transcripts depends on at least two different Cas6 proteins. Mutation of gene sll7090, encoding a Cmr2 protein led to the disappearance of all CRISPR3-derived crRNAs, providing in vivo evidence for a function of Cmr2 in the maturation, regulation of expression, Cmr complex formation or stabilization of CRISPR3 transcripts. Finally, we optimized CRISPR repeat structure prediction and the results indicate that the spacer context can influence individual repeat structures.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056470
PMCID: PMC3575380  PMID: 23441196
4.  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
5.  Characterization of the CRISPR/Cas Subtype I-A System of the Hyperthermophilic Crenarchaeon Thermoproteus tenax 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(10):2491-2500.
CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) elements and cas (CRISPR-associated) genes are widespread in Bacteria and Archaea. The CRISPR/Cas system operates as a defense mechanism against mobile genetic elements (i.e., viruses or plasmids). Here, we investigate seven CRISPR loci in the genome of the crenarchaeon Thermoproteus tenax that include spacers with significant similarity not only to archaeal viruses but also to T. tenax genes. The analysis of CRISPR RNA (crRNA) transcription reveals transcripts of a length between 50 and 130 nucleotides, demonstrating the processing of larger crRNA precursors. The organization of identified cas genes resembles CRISPR/Cas subtype I-A, and the core cas genes are shown to be arranged on two polycistronic transcripts: cascis (cas4, cas1/2, and csa1) and cascade (csa5, cas7, cas5a, cas3, cas3′, and cas8a2). Changes in the environmental parameters such as UV-light exposure or high ionic strength modulate cas gene transcription. Two reconstitution protocols were established for the production of two discrete multipartite Cas protein complexes that correspond to their operonic gene arrangement. These data provide insights into the specialized mechanisms of an archaeal CRISPR/Cas system and allow selective functional analyses of Cas protein complexes in the future.
doi:10.1128/JB.00206-12
PMCID: PMC3347209  PMID: 22408157
6.  Diverse CRISPRs Evolving in Human Microbiomes 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(6):e1002441.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) loci, together with cas (CRISPR–associated) genes, form the CRISPR/Cas adaptive immune system, a primary defense strategy that eubacteria and archaea mobilize against foreign nucleic acids, including phages and conjugative plasmids. Short spacer sequences separated by the repeats are derived from foreign DNA and direct interference to future infections. The availability of hundreds of shotgun metagenomic datasets from the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) enables us to explore the distribution and diversity of known CRISPRs in human-associated microbial communities and to discover new CRISPRs. We propose a targeted assembly strategy to reconstruct CRISPR arrays, which whole-metagenome assemblies fail to identify. For each known CRISPR type (identified from reference genomes), we use its direct repeat consensus sequence to recruit reads from each HMP dataset and then assemble the recruited reads into CRISPR loci; the unique spacer sequences can then be extracted for analysis. We also identified novel CRISPRs or new CRISPR variants in contigs from whole-metagenome assemblies and used targeted assembly to more comprehensively identify these CRISPRs across samples. We observed that the distributions of CRISPRs (including 64 known and 86 novel ones) are largely body-site specific. We provide detailed analysis of several CRISPR loci, including novel CRISPRs. For example, known streptococcal CRISPRs were identified in most oral microbiomes, totaling ∼8,000 unique spacers: samples resampled from the same individual and oral site shared the most spacers; different oral sites from the same individual shared significantly fewer, while different individuals had almost no common spacers, indicating the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses. We further demonstrate potential applications of CRISPRs to the tracing of rare species and the virus exposure of individuals. This work indicates the importance of effective identification and characterization of CRISPR loci to the study of the dynamic ecology of microbiomes.
Author Summary
Human bodies are complex ecological systems in which various microbial organisms and viruses interact with each other and with the human host. The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has resulted in >700 datasets of shotgun metagenomic sequences, from which we can learn about the compositions and functions of human-associated microbial communities. CRISPR/Cas systems are a widespread class of adaptive immune systems in bacteria and archaea, providing acquired immunity against foreign nucleic acids: CRISPR/Cas defense pathways involve integration of viral- or plasmid-derived DNA segments into CRISPR arrays (forming spacers between repeated structural sequences), and expression of short crRNAs from these single repeat-spacer units, to generate interference to future invading foreign genomes. Powered by an effective computational approach (the targeted assembly approach for CRISPR), our analysis of CRISPR arrays in the HMP datasets provides the very first global view of bacterial immunity systems in human-associated microbial communities. The great diversity of CRISPR spacers we observed among different body sites, in different individuals, and in single individuals over time, indicates the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses and indicates the key role of bacteriophage (and plasmids) in shaping human microbial communities.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002441
PMCID: PMC3374615  PMID: 22719260
7.  The RNA- and DNA-targeting CRISPR–Cas immune systems of Pyrococcus furiosus 
Biochemical Society transactions  2013;41(6):1416-1421.
Using the hyperthermophile Pyrococcus furiosus, we have delineated several key steps in CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)–Cas (CRISPR-associated) invader defence pathways. P. furiosus has seven transcriptionally active CRISPR loci that together encode a total of 200 crRNAs (CRISPR RNAs). The 27 Cas proteins in this organism represent three distinct pathways and are primarily encoded in two large gene clusters. The Cas6 protein dices CRISPR locus transcripts to generate individual invader-targeting crRNAs. The mature crRNAs include a signature sequence element (the 5′ tag) derived from the CRISPR locus repeat sequence that is important for function. crRNAs are tailored into distinct species and integrated into three distinct crRNA–Cas protein complexes that are all candidate effector complexes. The complex formed by the Cmr [Cas module RAMP (repeat-associated mysterious proteins)] (subtype III-B) proteins cleaves complementary target RNAs and can be programmed to cleave novel target RNAs in a prokaryotic RNAi-like manner. Evidence suggests that the other two CRISPR–Cas systems in P. furiosus, Csa (Cas subtype Apern) (subtype I-A) and Cst (Cas subtype Tneap) (subtype I-B), target invaders at the DNA level. Studies of the CRISPR–Cas systems from P. furiosus are yielding fundamental knowledge of mechanisms of crRNA biogenesis and silencing for three of the diverse CRISPR–Cas pathways, and reveal that organisms such as P. furiosus possess an arsenal of multiple RNA-guided mechanisms to resist diverse invaders. Our knowledge of the fascinating CRISPR–Cas pathways is leading in turn to our ability to co-opt these systems for exciting new biomedical and biotechnological applications.
doi:10.1042/BST20130056
PMCID: PMC3996508  PMID: 24256230
clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR); CRISPR-associated (Cas); non-coding RNA; prokaryotic immunity; Pyrococcus furiosus; virus
8.  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
9.  Genetic determinants of PAM-dependent DNA targeting and pre-crRNA processing in Sulfolobus islandicus 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):738-748.
Bacteria and Archaea encode clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) systems to confer adaptive immunity to invasive viruses and plasmids. Recent studies of CRISPR systems revealed that diverse CRISPR-associated (Cas) interference modules often coexist in different organisms but functions of cas genes have not been dissected in any of these systems. The crenarchaeon Sulfolobus islandicus encodes three distinct CRISPR interference modules, including a type IA system and two type IIIB systems: Cmr-α and Cmr-β. To study the genetic determinants of protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM)-dependent DNA targeting activity and mature CRISPR RNA (crRNA) production in this organism, mutants deleting individual genes of the type IA system or removing each of other Cas modules were constructed. Characterization of these mutants revealed that Cas7, Cas5, Cas6, Cas3′ and Cas3” are essential for PAM-dependent DNA targeting activity, whereas Csa5, along with all other Cas modules, is dispensable for the targeting in the crenarchaeon. Cas6 is implicated as the only enzyme for pre-crRNA processing and the crRNA maturation is independent of the DNA targeting activity. Importantly, we show that Cas7 and Cas5 are essential for stabilizing the processing intermediates and mature crRNAs, respectively, and that depleting the helicase or nuclease domain of Cas3 leads to the accumulation of processing intermediates. This demonstrates that in addition to Cas6, other Cas proteins of an archaeal type IA system also contribute to crRNA processing.
doi:10.4161/rna.23798
PMCID: PMC3737332  PMID: 23392249
CRISPR/Cas; Cascade; protospacer-adjacent motifs; crRNA biogenesis; DNA interference; cas mutants; Sulfolobus islandicus
10.  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
11.  RcsB-BglJ-mediated activation of Cascade operon does not induce the maturation of CRISPR RNAs in E. coli K12 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):708-715.
Prokaryotic immunity against foreign nucleic acids mediated by clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) depends on the expression of the CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins and the formation of small CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs). The crRNA-loaded Cas ribonucleoprotein complexes convey the specific recognition and inactivation of target nucleic acids. In E. coli K12, the maturation of crRNAs and the interference with target DNA is performed by the Cascade complex. The transcription of the Cascade operon is tightly repressed through H-NS-dependent inhibition of the Pcas promoter. Elevated levels of the LysR-type regulator LeuO induce the Pcas promoter and concomitantly activate the CRISPR-mediated immunity against phages. Here, we show that the Pcas promoter can also be induced by constitutive expression of the regulator BglJ. This activation is LeuO-dependent as heterodimers of BglJ and RcsB activate leuO transcription. Each transcription factor, LeuO or BglJ, induced the transcription of the Cascade genes to comparable amounts. However, the maturation of the crRNAs was activated in LeuO but not in BglJ-expressing cells. Studies on CRISPR promoter activities, transcript stabilities, crRNA processing and Cascade protein levels were performed to answer the question why crRNA maturation is defective in BglJ-expressing cells. Our results demonstrate that the activation of Cascade gene transcription is necessary but not sufficient to turn on the CRISPR-mediated immunity and suggest a more complex regulation of the type I-E CRISPR-Cas system in E. coli.
doi:10.4161/rna.23765
PMCID: PMC3737329  PMID: 23392250
CRISPR; Cas protein; Cascade; H-NS; LeuO; transcription regulation
12.  CRISPR loci reveal networks of gene exchange in archaea 
Biology Direct  2011;6:65.
Background
CRISPR (Clustered, Regularly, Interspaced, Short, Palindromic Repeats) loci provide prokaryotes with an adaptive immunity against viruses and other mobile genetic elements. CRISPR arrays can be transcribed and processed into small crRNA molecules, which are then used by the cell to target the foreign nucleic acid. Since spacers are accumulated by active CRISPR/Cas systems, the sequences of these spacers provide a record of the past "infection history" of the organism.
Results
Here we analyzed all currently known spacers present in archaeal genomes and identified their source by DNA similarity. While nearly 50% of archaeal spacers matched mobile genetic elements, such as plasmids or viruses, several others matched chromosomal genes of other organisms, primarily other archaea. Thus, networks of gene exchange between archaeal species were revealed by the spacer analysis, including many cases of inter-genus and inter-species gene transfer events. Spacers that recognize viral sequences tend to be located further away from the leader sequence, implying that there exists a selective pressure for their retention.
Conclusions
CRISPR spacers provide direct evidence for extensive gene exchange in archaea, especially within genera, and support the current dogma where the primary role of the CRISPR/Cas system is anti-viral and anti-plasmid defense.
Open peer review
This article was reviewed by: Profs. W. Ford Doolittle, John van der Oost, Christa Schleper (nominated by board member Prof. J Peter Gogarten)
doi:10.1186/1745-6150-6-65
PMCID: PMC3285040  PMID: 22188759
CRISPR; Lateral Gene transfer; Horizontal gene transfer; viruses; archaea; competence
13.  In vitro assembly and activity of an archaeal CRISPR-Cas type I-A Cascade interference complex 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(8):5125-5138.
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-CRISPR-associated (Cas) systems of type I use a Cas ribonucleoprotein complex for antiviral defense (Cascade) to mediate the targeting and degradation of foreign DNA. To address molecular features of the archaeal type I-A Cascade interference mechanism, we established the in vitro assembly of the Thermoproteus tenax Cascade from six recombinant Cas proteins, synthetic CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) and target DNA fragments. RNA-Seq analyses revealed the processing pattern of crRNAs from seven T. tenax CRISPR arrays. Synthetic crRNA transcripts were matured by hammerhead ribozyme cleavage. The assembly of type I-A Cascade indicates that Cas3′ and Cas3′′ are an integral part of the complex, and the interference activity was shown to be dependent on the crRNA and the matching target DNA. The reconstituted Cascade was used to identify sequence motifs that are required for efficient DNA degradation and to investigate the role of the subunits Cas7 and Cas3′′ in the interplay with other Cascade subunits.
doi:10.1093/nar/gku120
PMCID: PMC4005679  PMID: 24500198
14.  Characterization of CRISPR RNA Biogenesis and Cas6 Cleavage-Mediated Inhibition of a Provirus in the Haloarchaeon Haloferax mediterranei 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(4):867-875.
The adaptive immune system comprising CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) arrays and cas (CRISPR-associated) genes has been discovered in a wide range of bacteria and archaea and has recently attracted comprehensive investigations. However, the subtype I-B CRISPR-Cas system in haloarchaea has been less characterized. Here, we investigated Cas6-mediated RNA processing in Haloferax mediterranei. The Cas6 cleavage site, as well as the CRISPR transcription start site, was experimentally determined, and processing of CRISPR transcripts was detected with a progressively increasing pattern from early log to stationary phase. With genetic approaches, we discovered that the lack of Cas1, Cas3, or Cas4 unexpectedly resulted in a decrease of CRISPR transcripts, while Cas5, Cas6, and Cas7 were found to be essential in stabilizing mature CRISPR RNA (crRNA). Intriguingly, we observed a CRISPR- and Cas3-independent inhibition of a defective provirus, in which the putative Cascade (CRISPR-associated complex for antiviral defense) proteins (Cas5, Cas6, Cas7, and Cas8b) were indispensably required. A sequence carried by a proviral transcript was found to be homologous to the CRISPR repeat RNA and vulnerable to Cas6-mediated cleavage, implying a distinct interference mechanism that may account for this unusual inhibition. These results provide fundamental information for the subtype I-B CRISPR-Cas system in halophilic archaea and suggest diversified mechanisms and multiple physiological functions for the CRISPR-Cas system.
doi:10.1128/JB.01688-12
PMCID: PMC3562093  PMID: 23243301
15.  A PNPase Dependent CRISPR System in Listeria 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(1):e1004065.
The human bacterial pathogen Listeria monocytogenes is emerging as a model organism to study RNA-mediated regulation in pathogenic bacteria. A class of non-coding RNAs called CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) has been described to confer bacterial resistance against invading bacteriophages and conjugative plasmids. CRISPR function relies on the activity of CRISPR associated (cas) genes that encode a large family of proteins with nuclease or helicase activities and DNA and RNA binding domains. Here, we characterized a CRISPR element (RliB) that is expressed and processed in the L. monocytogenes strain EGD-e, which is completely devoid of cas genes. Structural probing revealed that RliB has an unexpected secondary structure comprising basepair interactions between the repeats and the adjacent spacers in place of canonical hairpins formed by the palindromic repeats. Moreover, in contrast to other CRISPR-Cas systems identified in Listeria, RliB-CRISPR is ubiquitously present among Listeria genomes at the same genomic locus and is never associated with the cas genes. We showed that RliB-CRISPR is a substrate for the endogenously encoded polynucleotide phosphorylase (PNPase) enzyme. The spacers of the different Listeria RliB-CRISPRs share many sequences with temperate and virulent phages. Furthermore, we show that a cas-less RliB-CRISPR lowers the acquisition frequency of a plasmid carrying the matching protospacer, provided that trans encoded cas genes of a second CRISPR-Cas system are present in the genome. Importantly, we show that PNPase is required for RliB-CRISPR mediated DNA interference. Altogether, our data reveal a yet undescribed CRISPR system whose both processing and activity depend on PNPase, highlighting a new and unexpected function for PNPase in “CRISPRology”.
Author Summary
CRISPR-Cas systems confer to bacteria and archaea an adaptive immunity that protects them against invading bacteriophages and plasmids. In this study, we characterize a CRISPR (RliB-CRISPR) that is present in all L. monocytogenes strains at the same genomic locus but is never associated with a cas operon. It is an unusual CRISPR that, as we demonstrate, has a secondary structure consisting of basepair interactions between the repeat sequence and the adjacent spacer. We show that the RliB-CRISPR is processed by the endogenously encoded polynucleotide phosphorylase enzyme (PNPase). In addition, we show that the RliB-CRISPR system requires PNPase and presence of trans encoded cas genes of a second CRISPR-Cas system, to mediate DNA interference directed against a plasmid carrying a matching protospacer. Altogether, our data reveal a novel type of CRISPR system in bacteria that requires endogenously encoded PNPase enzyme for its processing and interference activity.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004065
PMCID: PMC3886909  PMID: 24415952
16.  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
17.  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
18.  Two CRISPR-Cas systems inMethanosarcina mazeistrain Gö1 display common processing features despite belonging to different types I and III 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):779-791.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) system represents a highly adaptive and heritable defense system against foreign nucleic acids in bacteria and archaea. We analyzed the two CRISPR-Cas systems in Methanosarcina mazei strain Gö1. Although belonging to different subtypes (I-B and III-B), the leaders and repeats of both loci are nearly identical. Also, despite many point mutations in each array, a common hairpin motif was identified in the repeats by a bioinformatics analysis and in vitro structural probing. The expression and maturation of CRISPR-derived RNAs (crRNAs) were studied in vitro and in vivo. Both respective potential Cas6b-type endonucleases were purified and their activity tested in vitro. Each protein showed significant activity and could cleave both repeats at the same processing site. Cas6b of subtype III-B, however, was significantly more efficient in its cleavage activity compared with Cas6b of subtype I-B. Northern blot and differential RNAseq analyses were performed to investigate in vivo transcription and maturation of crRNAs, revealing generally very low expression of both systems, whereas significant induction at high NaCl concentrations was observed. crRNAs derived proximal to the leader were generally more abundant than distal ones and in vivo processing sites were clarified for both loci, confirming the previously well-established 8 nt 5′ repeat tags. The 3′-ends were more diverse, but generally ended in a prefix of the following repeat sequence (3′-tag). The analysis further revealed a 5′-hydroxy and 3′-phosphate termini architecture of small crRNAs specific for cleavage products of Cas6 endonucleases from type I-E and I-F and type III-B.
doi:10.4161/rna.23928
PMCID: PMC3737336  PMID: 23619576
methanoarchaea; CRISPR-Cas system; immunity of prokaryotes; regulatory RNA; phages; Methanosarcina mazei
19.  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
20.  Structures of the RNA-guided surveillance complex from a bacterial immune system 
Nature  2011;477(7365):486-489.
Bacteria and archaea acquire resistance to viruses and plasmids by integrating short fragments of foreign DNA into clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs). These repetitive loci maintain a genetic record of all prior encounters with foreign transgressors1–6. CRISPRs are transcribed and the long primary transcript is processed into a library of short CRISPR-derived RNAs (crRNAs) that contain a unique sequence complementary to a foreign nucleic-acid challenger7–12. In Escherichia coli, crRNAs are incorporated into a multisubunit surveillance complex called Cascade (CRISPR-associated complex for antiviral defence), which is required for protection against bacteriophages13,14. Here we use cryo-electron microscopy to determine the subnanometre structures of Cascade before and after binding to a target sequence. These structures reveal a sea-horse-shaped architecture in which the crRNA is displayed along a helical arrangement of protein subunits that protect the crRNA from degradation while maintaining its availability for base pairing. Cascade engages invading nucleic acids through high-affinity base-pairing interactions near the 5′ end of the crRNA. Base pairing extends along the crRNA, resultingina series of short helical segments that trigger a concerted conformational change. This conformational rearrangement may serve as a signal that recruits a trans-acting nuclease (Cas3) for destruction of invading nucleic-acid sequences.
doi:10.1038/nature10402
PMCID: PMC4165517  PMID: 21938068
21.  Cas5d protein processes pre-crRNA and assembles into a Cascade-like interference complex in Subtype I-C/Dvulg CRISPR-Cas system 
Structure (London, England : 1993)  2012;20(9):1574-1584.
SUMMARY
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs), together with an operon of CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins, form an RNA-based prokaryotic immune system against exogenous genetic elements. Cas5 family proteins are found in several Type I CRISPR-Cas systems. Here we report the molecular function of Subtype I-C/Dvulg Cas5d from B. halodurans. We show that Cas5d cleaves pre-crRNA into unit length by recognizing both the hairpin structure and the 3′ single stranded sequence in the CRISPR repeat region. Cas5d structure reveals a ferredoxin domain-based architecture and a catalytic triad formed by Y46, K116 and H117 residues. We further show that after pre-crRNA processing, Cas5d assembles with crRNA, Csd1, and Csd2 proteins to form a multi-subunit interference complex similar to E. coli Cascade (CRISPR-associated complex for antiviral defense) in architecture. Our results suggest that formation of a crRNA-presenting Cascade-like complex is likely a common theme among Type I CRISPR subtypes.
doi:10.1016/j.str.2012.06.016
PMCID: PMC3479641  PMID: 22841292
22.  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
23.  Non-Identity-Mediated CRISPR-Bacteriophage Interaction Mediated via the Csy and Cas3 Proteins ▿# 
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(14):3433-3445.
Studies of the Escherichia, Neisseria, Thermotoga, and Mycobacteria clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) subtypes have resulted in a model whereby CRISPRs function as a defense system against bacteriophage infection and conjugative plasmid transfer. In contrast, we previously showed that the Yersinia-subtype CRISPR region of Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain UCBPP-PA14 plays no detectable role in viral immunity but instead is required for bacteriophage DMS3-dependent inhibition of biofilm formation by P. aeruginosa. The goal of this study is to define the components of the Yersinia-subtype CRISPR region required to mediate this bacteriophage-host interaction. We show that the Yersinia-subtype-specific CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins Csy4 and Csy2 are essential for small CRISPR RNA (crRNA) production in vivo, while the Csy1 and Csy3 proteins are not absolutely required for production of these small RNAs. Further, we present evidence that the core Cas protein Cas3 functions downstream of small crRNA production and that this protein requires functional HD (predicted phosphohydrolase) and DEXD/H (predicted helicase) domains to suppress biofilm formation in DMS3 lysogens. We also determined that only spacer 1, which is not identical to any region of the DMS3 genome, mediates the CRISPR-dependent loss of biofilm formation. Our evidence suggests that gene 42 of phage DMS3 (DMS3-42) is targeted by CRISPR2 spacer 1 and that this targeting tolerates multiple point mutations between the spacer and DMS3-42 target sequence. This work demonstrates how the interaction between P. aeruginosa strain UCBPP-PA14 and bacteriophage DMS3 can be used to further our understanding of the diverse roles of CRISPR system function in bacteria.
doi:10.1128/JB.01411-10
PMCID: PMC3133329  PMID: 21398535
24.  CRISPR RNA binding and DNA target recognition by purified Cascade complexes from Escherichia coli 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;43(1):530-543.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) and their associated Cas proteins comprise a prokaryotic RNA-guided adaptive immune system that interferes with mobile genetic elements, such as plasmids and phages. The type I-E CRISPR interference complex Cascade from Escherichia coli is composed of five different Cas proteins and a 61-nt-long guide RNA (crRNA). crRNAs contain a unique 32-nt spacer flanked by a repeat-derived 5′ handle (8 nt) and a 3′ handle (21 nt). The spacer part of crRNA directs Cascade to DNA targets. Here, we show that the E. coli Cascade can be expressed and purified from cells lacking crRNAs and loaded in vitro with synthetic crRNAs, which direct it to targets complementary to crRNA spacer. The deletion of even one nucleotide from the crRNA 5′ handle disrupted its binding to Cascade and target DNA recognition. In contrast, crRNA variants with just a single nucleotide downstream of the spacer part bound Cascade and the resulting ribonucleotide complex containing a 41-nt-long crRNA specifically recognized DNA targets. Thus, the E. coli Cascade-crRNA system exhibits significant flexibility suggesting that this complex can be engineered for applications in genome editing and opening the way for incorporation of site-specific labels in crRNA.
doi:10.1093/nar/gku1285
PMCID: PMC4288178  PMID: 25488810
25.  Genetic Characterization of Antiplasmid Immunity through a Type III-A CRISPR-Cas System 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;196(2):310-317.
Many prokaryotes possess an adaptive immune system encoded by clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs). CRISPR loci produce small guide RNAs (crRNAs) that, in conjunction with flanking CRISPR-associated (cas) genes, combat viruses and block plasmid transfer by an antisense targeting mechanism. CRISPR-Cas systems have been classified into three types (I to III) that employ distinct mechanisms of crRNA biogenesis and targeting. The type III-A system in Staphylococcus epidermidis RP62a blocks the transfer of staphylococcal conjugative plasmids and harbors nine cas-csm genes. Previous biochemical analysis indicated that Cas10, Csm2, Csm3, Csm4, and Csm5 form a crRNA-containing ribonucleoprotein complex; however, the roles of these genes toward antiplasmid targeting remain unknown. Here, we determined the cas-csm genes that are required for antiplasmid immunity and used genetic and biochemical analyses to investigate the functions of predicted motifs and domains within these genes. We found that many mutations affected immunity by impacting the formation of the Cas10-Csm complex or crRNA biogenesis. Surprisingly, mutations in the predicted nuclease domains of the members of the Cas10-Csm complex had no detectable effect on antiplasmid immunity or crRNA biogenesis. In contrast, the deletion of csm6 and mutations in the cas10 Palm polymerase domain prevented CRISPR immunity without affecting either complex formation or crRNA production, suggesting their involvement in target destruction. By delineating the genetic requirements of this system, our findings further contribute to the mechanistic understanding of type III CRISPR-Cas systems.
doi:10.1128/JB.01130-13
PMCID: PMC3911255  PMID: 24187086

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