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PLoS One. 2008 Sep 1;3(9):e3121. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003121.

Group II intron-based gene targeting reactions in eukaryotes.

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Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, United States of America.



Mobile group II introns insert site-specifically into DNA target sites by a mechanism termed retrohoming in which the excised intron RNA reverse splices into a DNA strand and is reverse transcribed by the intron-encoded protein. Retrohoming is mediated by a ribonucleoprotein particle that contains the intron-encoded protein and excised intron RNA, with target specificity determined largely by base pairing of the intron RNA to the DNA target sequence. This feature enabled the development of mobile group II introns into bacterial gene targeting vectors ("targetrons") with programmable target specificity. Thus far, however, efficient group II intron-based gene targeting reactions have not been demonstrated in eukaryotes.


By using a plasmid-based Xenopus laevis oocyte microinjection assay, we show that group II intron RNPs can integrate efficiently into target DNAs in a eukaryotic nucleus, but the reaction is limited by low Mg(2+) concentrations. By supplying additional Mg(2+), site-specific integration occurs in up to 38% of plasmid target sites. The integration products isolated from X. laevis nuclei are sensitive to restriction enzymes specific for double-stranded DNA, indicating second-strand synthesis via host enzymes. We also show that group II intron RNPs containing either lariat or linear intron RNA can introduce a double-strand break into a plasmid target site, thereby stimulating homologous recombination with a co-transformed DNA fragment at frequencies up to 4.8% of target sites. Chromatinization of the target DNA inhibits both types of targeting reactions, presumably by impeding RNP access. However, by using similar RNP microinjection methods, we show efficient Mg(2+)-dependent group II intron integration into plasmid target sites in zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos and into plasmid and chromosomal target sites in Drosophila melanogster embryos, indicating that DNA replication can mitigate effects of chromatinization.


Our results provide an experimental foundation for the development of group II intron-based gene targeting methods for higher organisms.

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