Type II CRISPR immune systems in bacteria use a dual RNA-guided DNA endonuclease, Cas9, to cleave foreign DNA at specific sites. We show here that Cas9 assembles with hybrid guide RNAs in human cells and can induce the formation of double-strand DNA breaks (DSBs) at a site complementary to the guide RNA sequence in genomic DNA. This cleavage activity requires both Cas9 and the complementary binding of the guide RNA. Experiments using extracts from transfected cells show that RNA expression and/or assembly into Cas9 is the limiting factor for Cas9-mediated DNA cleavage. In addition, we find that extension of the RNA sequence at the 3′ end enhances DNA targeting activity in vivo. These results show that RNA-programmed genome editing is a facile strategy for introducing site-specific genetic changes in human cells.
The ability to make specific changes to DNA—such as changing, inserting or deleting sequences that encode proteins—allows researchers to engineer cells, tissues and organisms for therapeutic and practical applications. Until now, such genome engineering has required the design and production of proteins with the ability to recognize a specific DNA sequence. The bacterial protein, Cas9, has the potential to enable a simpler approach to genome engineering because it is a DNA-cleaving enzyme that can be programmed with short RNA molecules to recognize specific DNA sequences, thus dispensing with the need to engineer a new protein for each new DNA target sequence.
Now Jinek et al. demonstrate the capability of RNA-programmed Cas9 to introduce targeted double-strand breaks into human chromosomal DNA, thereby inducing site-specific genome editing reactions. Cas9 assembles with engineered single-guide RNAs in human cells and the resulting Cas9-RNA complex can induce the formation of double-strand breaks in genomic DNA at a site complementary to the guide RNA sequence. Experiments using extracts from transfected cells show that RNA expression and/or assembly into Cas9 is the limiting factor for the DNA cleavage, and that extension of the RNA sequence at the 3′ end enhances DNA targeting activity in vivo.
These results show that RNA-programmed genome editing is a straightforward strategy for introducing site-specific genetic changes in human cells, and the ease with which it can programmed means that it is likely to become competitive with existing approaches based on zinc finger nucleases and transcription activator-like effector nucleases, and could lead to a new generation of experiments in the field of genome engineering for humans and other species with complex genomes.
Cas9; endonuclease; genome editing; Human
Cell survival in changing environments requires appropriate regulation of gene expression, including post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms. From reporter gene studies in glucose-starved yeast, it was proposed that translationally silenced eukaryotic mRNAs accumulate in P-bodies and can return to active translation. We present evidence contradicting the notion that reversible storage of non-translating mRNAs is a widespread and general phenomenon. First, genome-wide measurements of mRNA abundance, translation, and ribosome occupancy following glucose withdrawal show that most mRNAs are depleted from the cell coincident with their depletion from polysomes. Second, only a limited sub-population of translationally repressed transcripts, comprising fewer than 400 genes, can be reactivated for translation upon glucose re-addition in the absence of new transcription. This highly selective post-transcriptional regulation could be a mechanism for cells to minimize the energetic costs of reversing gene-regulatory decisions in rapidly changing environments by transiently preserving a pool of transcripts whose translation is rate-limiting for growth.
In bacterial and archaeal CRISPR immune pathways, DNA sequences from invading bacteriophage or plasmids are integrated into CRISPR loci within the host genome, conferring immunity against subsequent infections. The ribonucleoprotein complex Cascade utilizes RNAs generated from these loci to target complementary “non-self” DNA sequences for destruction, while avoiding binding to “self” sequences within the CRISPR locus. Here we show that CasA, the largest protein subunit of Cascade, is required for non-self target recognition and binding. Combining a 2.3 Å crystal structure of CasA with cryo-EM structures of Cascade, we have identified a loop that is required for viral defense. This loop contacts a conserved 3-base pair motif that is required for non-self target selection. Our data suggest a model in which the CasA loop scans DNA for this short motif prior to target destabilization and binding, maximizing the efficiency of DNA surveillance by Cascade.
We have initiated a broad-based program aimed at understanding the molecular basis of fluorine specificity in enzymatic systems, and in this context, we report crystallographic and biochemical studies on a fluoroacetyl-coenzyme A (CoA) specific thioesterase (FlK) from Streptomyces cattleya. Our data establish that FlK is competent to protect its host from fluoroacetate toxicity in vivo and demonstrate a 106-fold discrimination between fluoroacetyl-CoA(kcat/KM=5×107M−1 s−1) and acetyl-CoA(kcat/KM=30 M−1 s−1) based on a single fluorine substitution that originates from differences in both substrate reactivity and binding. We show that Thr 42, Glu 50, and His 76 are key catalytic residues and identify several factors that influence substrate selectivity. We propose that FlK minimizes interaction with the thioester carbonyl, leading to selection against acetyl-CoA binding that can be recovered in part by new C=O interactions in the T42S and T42C mutants. We hypothesize that the loss of these interactions is compensated by the entropic driving force for fluorinated substrate binding in a hydrophobic binding pocket created by a lid structure, containing Val 23, Leu 26, Phe 33, and Phe 36, that is not found in other structurally characterized members of this superfamily. We further suggest that water plays a critical role in fluorine specificity based on biochemical and structural studies focused on the unique Phe 36 “gate” residue, which functions to exclude water from the active site. Taken together, the findings from these studies offer molecular insights into organofluorine recognition and design of fluorine-specific enzymes.
The emergence of new pandemic influenza A viruses requires overcoming barriers to cross-species transmission as viruses move from animal reservoirs into humans. This complicated process is driven by both individual gene mutations and genome reassortments. The viral polymerase complex, composed of the proteins PB1, PB2, and PA, is a major factor controlling host adaptation, and reassortment events involving polymerase gene segments occurred with past pandemic viruses. Here we investigate the ability of polymerase reassortment to restore the activity of an avian influenza virus polymerase that is normally impaired in human cells. Our data show that the substitution of human-origin PA subunits into an avian influenza virus polymerase alleviates restriction in human cells and increases polymerase activity in vitro. Reassortants with 2009 pandemic H1N1 PA proteins were the most active. Mutational analyses demonstrated that the majority of the enhancing activity in human PA results from a threonine-to-serine change at residue 552. Reassortant viruses with avian polymerases and human PA subunits, or simply the T552S mutation, displayed faster replication kinetics in culture and increased pathogenicity in mice compared to those containing a wholly avian polymerase complex. Thus, the acquisition of a human PA subunit, or the signature T552S mutation, is a potential mechanism to overcome the species-specific restriction of avian polymerases and increase virus replication. Our data suggest that the human, avian, swine, and 2009 H1N1-like viruses that are currently cocirculating in pig populations set the stage for PA reassortments with the potential to generate novel viruses that could possess expanded tropism and enhanced pathogenicity.
Translation of Hepatitis C viral proteins requires an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) located in the 5′ untranslated region of the viral mRNA. The core domain of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) IRES contains a four-way helical junction that is integrated within a predicted pseudoknot. This domain is required for positioning the mRNA start codon correctly on the 40S ribosomal subunit during translation initiation. Here we present the crystal structure of this RNA, revealing a complex double-pseudoknot fold that establishes the alignment of two helical elements on either side of the four-helix junction. The conformation of this core domain constrains the open reading frame’s orientation for positioning on the 40S ribosomal subunit. This structure, representing the last major domain of HCV-like IRESs to be determined at near-atomic resolution, provides the basis for a comprehensive cryo-electron microscopy-guided model of the intact HCV IRES and its interaction with 40S ribosomal subunits.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a considerable global health problem for which new classes of therapeutics are needed. We developed a high-throughput assay to identify compounds that selectively block translation initiation from the HCV internal ribosome entry site (HCV IRES). Rabbit reticulocyte lysate conditions were optimized to faithfully report on authentic HCV IRES-dependent translation relative to a 5′ capped mRNA control. We screened a library of ~430,000 small molecules for IRES inhibition, leading to ~1,700 initial hits. After secondary counter screening the vast majority of hits proved to be luciferase and general translation inhibitors. Despite well-optimized in vitro translation conditions, in the end we found no selective HCV IRES inhibitors but did discover a new scaffold of general translation inhibitor. The analysis of these molecules, and the finding that a large fraction of false positives resulted from off-target effects, highlights the challenges inherent in screens for RNA-specific inhibitors.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV); IRES; luciferase; high-throughput screen; rabbit reticulocyte lysate
The human ribonuclease Dicer and its double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) binding protein (dsRBP) partners TRBP and PACT play important roles in the biogenesis of regulatory RNAs. Following dicing, one dsRNA product strand is preferentially assembled into an RNA-Induced Silencing Complex (RISC). The mechanism of strand selection in humans and the possible role of Dicer in this process remains unclear. Here we demonstrate that dsRNAs undergo significant repositioning within Dicer complexes following dicing. This repositioning enables directional binding of RNA duplexes, thereby biasing their orientation for guide strand selection according to the thermodynamic properties of the helix. Our findings indicate that Dicer is itself capable of sensing siRNA thermodynamic asymmetry regardless of the dsRBP to which it is bound. These results support a model in which Dicer employs two distinct RNA binding sites – one for dsRNA processing and the other for sensing of siRNA thermodynamic asymmetry – during RISC loading in humans.
Messenger RNA decay plays a central role in the regulation and surveillance of eukaryotic gene expression. The conserved multi-domain exoribonuclease Xrn1 targets cytoplasmic RNA substrates marked by a 5′ monophosphate for processive 5′-to-3′ degradation by an unknown mechanism. Here we report the crystal structure of an Xrn1-substrate complex. The single-stranded substrate is held in place by stacking of the 5′-terminal trinucleotide between aromatic side chains while a highly basic pocket specifically recognizes the 5′ phosphate. Mutations of residues involved in binding the 5′-terminal nucleotide impair Xrn1 processivity. The substrate recognition mechanism allows Xrn1 to couple processive hydrolysis to duplex melting in RNA substrates with sufficiently long single-stranded 5′ overhangs. The Xrn1-substrate complex structure thus rationalizes the exclusive specificity of Xrn1 for 5′-monophosphorylated substrates, ensuring fidelity of mRNA turnover, and posits a model for translocation-coupled unwinding of structured RNA substrates.
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.
The specialized ribonuclease Dicer plays a central role in eukaryotic gene expression by producing small regulatory RNAs – miRNAs and siRNAs – from larger double stranded RNA (dsRNA) substrates. Although Dicer will cleave both imperfectly base-paired hairpin structures (pre-miRNAs) and perfect duplexes (pre-siRNAs) in vitro, it has not been clear whether these are mechanistically equivalent substrates and how dsRNA binding proteins such as TRBP influence substrate selection and RNA processing efficiency. We show here that human Dicer is much faster at processing a pre-miRNA substrate compared to a pre-siRNA substrate under both single and multiple turnover conditions. Maximal cleavage rates (Vmax) calculated by Michaelis-Menten analysis differed by more than 100-fold under multiple turnover conditions. TRBP was found to enhance dicing of both substrates to similar extents, and this stimulation required the two N-terminal dsRNA binding domains of TRBP. These results demonstrate that multiple factors influence dicing kinetics. While TRBP stimulates dicing by enhancing the stability of Dicer-substrate complexes, Dicer itself generates product RNAs at rates determined at least in part by the structural properties of the substrate.
Dicer, a member of the Ribonuclease III family of enzymes, processes double-stranded RNA substrates into ~21-27 nucleotide products that trigger sequence-directed gene silencing by RNA interference (RNAi). Although the mechanism of RNA recognition and length-specific cleavage by Dicer has been established, the way in which dicing activity is regulated is unclear. Here we show that the N-terminal domain of human Dicer, which is homologous to DExD/H-box helicases, substantially attenuates the rate of substrate cleavage. Deletion or mutation of this domain activates human Dicer in both single- and multiple-turnover assays. The catalytic efficiency (kcat/Km) of the deletion construct is increased by 65-fold over that exhibited by the intact enzyme. Kinetic analysis shows that this activation is almost entirely due to an enhancement in kcat. Modest stimulation of catalysis by the full-length Dicer enzyme was observed in the presence of the TAR-RNA binding protein (TRBP), which physically interacts with the DExD/H-box domain. These results suggest that the DExD/H-box domain likely disrupts the functionality of the Dicer active site until a structural rearrangement occurs, perhaps upon assembly with its molecular partners.
Ribonuclease; Dicer; RNAi; helicase
We have expanded the application of antibody phage display to a new type of antigen: ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes. We describe a simple and efficient method for screening antibodies specific for large intact RNPs and individual components. We also describe a fast and easy method to overcome the abundance of amber stop codons in the positive phage clones. The resulting antibodies have been used in ELISA and Western blot analysis.
Antibody phage display; scFv; Macromolecular complexes; ribonucleoprotein
GW182-family proteins are essential for microRNA-mediated translational repression and deadenylation in animal cells. Here we show that a conserved motif in the human GW182 paralog TNRC6C interacts with the C-terminal domain of polyadenylate binding protein 1 (PABC) and present the crystal structure of the complex. Mutations at the complex interface impair mRNA deadenylation in mammalian cell extracts, suggesting that the GW182-PABC interaction contributes to microRNA-mediated gene silencing.
Virtually all animals and plants utilize small RNA molecules to control protein expression during different developmental stages and in response to viral infection. Structural and mechanistic studies have begun to illuminate three fundamental aspects of these pathways: small RNA biogenesis, formation of RNA-induced silencing complexes (RISCs) and targeting of complementary mRNAs. Here we review exciting recent progress in understanding how regulatory RNAs are produced and how they trigger specific destruction of mRNAs during RNA interference (RNAi).
Targeted gene silencing by RNA interference (RNAi) requires loading of a short guide RNA (siRNA or miRNA) into an Argonaute protein to form the functional center of an RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC). In humans, Argonaute2 (Ago2) assembles with the guide RNA-generating enzyme Dicer and the RNA-binding protein TRBP to form a RISC-loading complex (RLC) necessary for efficient transfer of nascent siRNAs and miRNAs from Dicer to Ago2. Here we show, using single-particle electron microscopy analysis, that human Dicer exhibits an L-shaped structure. Withn the RLC Dicer's N-terminal DExH/D domain, located at the short base branch, interacts with TRBP, while its C-terminal catalytic domains in the main body are proximal to Ago2. A model generated by docking the available atomic structures of Dicer and Argonaute homologs into the RLC reconstruction suggests a mechanism for siRNA transfer from Dicer to Ago2.
Initiation factor eIF4G is a key regulator of eukaryotic protein synthesis, recognizing proteins bound at both ends of an mRNA to help recruit messages to the small (40S) ribosomal subunit. Notably, the genomes of a wide variety of eukaryotes encode multiple distinct variants of eIF4G. We found that deletion of eIF4G1, but not eIF4G2, impairs growth and global translation initiation rates in budding yeast under standard laboratory conditions. Not all mRNAs are equally sensitive to loss of eIF4G1; genes that encode messages with longer poly(A) tails are preferentially affected. However, eIF4G1-deletion strains contain significantly lower levels of total eIF4G, relative to eIF4G2-delete or wild type strains. Homogenic strains, which encode two copies of either eIF4G1 or eIF4G2 under native promoter control, express a single isoform at levels similar to the total amount of eIF4G in a wild type cell and have a similar capacity to support normal translation initiation rates. Polysome microarray analysis of these strains and the wild type parent showed that translationally active mRNAs are similar. These results suggest that total eIF4G levels, but not isoform-specific functions, determine mRNA-specific translational efficiency.
A new series of genetic screens begins to illuminate the interaction between influenza virus and the infected cell.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) inhibit mRNA expression in general by base pairing to the 3′UTR of target mRNAs and consequently inhibiting translation and/or initiating poly(A) tail deadenylation and mRNA destabilization. Here we examine the mechanism and kinetics of miRNA-mediated deadenylation in mouse Krebs-2 ascites extract. We demonstrate that miRNA-mediated mRNA deadenylation occurs subsequent to initial translational inhibition, indicating a two-step mechanism of miRNA action, which serves to consolidate repression. We show that a let-7 miRNA-loaded RNA-induced silencing complex (miRISC) interacts with the poly(A)-binding protein (PABP) and the CAF1 and CCR4 deadenylases. In addition, we demonstrate that miRNA-mediated deadenylation is dependent upon CAF1 activity and PABP, which serves as a bona fide miRNA coactivator. Importantly, we present evidence that GW182, a core component of the miRISC, directly interacts with PABP via its C-terminal region and that this interaction is required for miRNA-mediated deadenylation.
Eukaryotic protein synthesis begins with mRNA positioning in the ribosomal decoding channel in a process typically controlled by translation initiation factors. Some viruses utilize an internal ribosome entry site (IRES) in their mRNA to harness ribosomes independently of initiation factors. We show here that a ribosome conformational change induced upon Hepatitis C viral IRES binding is necessary but not sufficient for correct mRNA positioning. Using directed hydroxyl radical probing to monitor the assembly of IRES-containing translation initiation complexes, a critical step has been defined in which mRNA is stabilized upon initiator tRNA binding. Surprisingly, however, this stabilization occurs independent of the AUG codon, underscoring the importance of initiation factor-mediated interactions that influence decoding channel configuration. These results reveal how an IRES RNA supplants some, but not all, of the functions normally carried out by protein factors during protein synthesis initiation.
The receptor for activated C-kinase (RACK1), a conserved protein implicated in numerous signaling pathways, is a stoichiometric component of eukaryotic ribosomes located on the head of the 40S ribosomal subunit. To test the hypothesis that ribosome association is central to the function of RACK1 in vivo, we determined the 2.1-Å crystal structure of RACK1 from Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Asc1p) and used it to design eight mutant versions of RACK1 to assess roles in ribosome binding and in vivo function. Conserved charged amino acids on one side of the β-propeller structure were found to confer most of the 40S subunit binding affinity, whereas an adjacent conserved and structured loop had little effect on RACK1-ribosome association. Yeast mutations that confer moderate to strong defects in ribosome binding mimic some phenotypes of a RACK1 deletion strain, including increased sensitivity to drugs affecting cell wall biosynthesis and translation elongation. Furthermore, disruption of RACK1's position at the 40S ribosomal subunit results in the failure of the mRNA binding protein Scp160 to associate with actively translating ribosomes. These results provide the first direct evidence that RACK1 functions from the ribosome, implying a physical link between the eukaryotic ribosome and cell signaling pathways in vivo.
Transmission of highly pathogenic avian influenza across species into human populations can result in lethal infections and increases the potential of a pandemic outbreak. A major determinant of species tropism is the influenza polymerase subunit PB2. We show here that a dominant inhibitory activity in human cells potently and selectively restricts the function of polymerase containing an avian-like PB2 with glutamic acid at residue 627. This inhibitory activity dramatically reduces virus production by polymerases containing PB2 K627E without reducing their relative infectivity. Restricted polymerases fail to assemble into ribonucleoprotein complexes, resulting in decreased genome transcription, replication, and virus production. However, both wild-type and mutant PB2 bind to viral nucleoprotein when expressed alone, suggesting that species-specific conformational alterations within the polymerase trimer disrupt ribonucleoprotein assembly. Understanding the molecular basis for influenza virus host cell specificity and pathogenesis will enable rational strategies to treat and prevent future avian influenza outbreaks in humans.
Although the active site of group I introns is phylogenetically conserved, subclasses of introns have evolved different mechanisms of stabilizing the catalytic core. Large introns contain weakly conserved ‘peripheral’ domains that buttress the core through predicted interhelical contacts, while smaller introns use loop–helix interactions for stability. In all cases, specific and non-specific magnesium ion binding accompanies folding into the active structure. Whether similar RNA–RNA and RNA–magnesium ion contacts play related functional roles in different introns is not clear, particularly since it can be difficult to distinguish interactions directly involved in catalysis from those important for RNA folding. Using phosphorothioate interference with RNA activity and structure in the small (249 nt) group I intron from Anabaena, we used two independent assays to detect backbone phosphates important for catalysis and those involved in intron folding. Comparison of the interference sites identified in each assay shows that positions affecting catalysis cluster primarily in the conserved core of the intron, consistent with conservation of functionally important phosphates, many of which are magnesium ion binding sites, in diverse group I introns, including those from Azoarcus and Tetrahymena. However, unique sites of folding interference located outside the catalytic core imply that different group I introns, even within the same subclass, use distinct sets of tertiary interactions to stabilize the structure of the catalytic core.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) internal ribosome entry site (IRES) is a highly structured RNA element that directs cap-independent translation of the viral polyprotein. Morpholino antisense oligonucleotides directed towards stem loop IIId drastically reduced HCV IRES activity. Mutagenesis studies of this region showed that the GGG triplet (nucleotides 266 through 268) of the hexanucleotide apical loop of stem loop IIId is essential for IRES activity both in vitro and in vivo. Sequence comparison showed that apical loop nucleotides (UUGGGU) were absolutely conserved across HCV genotypes and the GGG triplet was strongly conserved among related Flavivirus and Pestivirus nontranslated regions. Chimeric IRES elements with IIId derived from GB virus B (GBV-B) in the context of the HCV IRES possess translational activity. Mutations within the IIId stem loop that abolish IRES activity also affect the RNA structure in RNase T1-probing studies, demonstrating the importance of correct RNA folding to IRES function.