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J Virol. 2018 Sep 26;92(20). pii: e01135-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01135-18. Print 2018 Oct 15.

HIV-1 Employs Multiple Mechanisms To Resist Cas9/Single Guide RNA Targeting the Viral Primer Binding Site.

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Lady Davis Institute, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Canada.
Department of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Department of Microbiology & Immunology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Institute of Pathogen Biology, Chinese Academy of Medical Science, Beijing, China.
Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada.
Institute of Medicinal Biotechnology, Chinese Academy of Medical Science, Beijing, China.
Department of Oncology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Lady Davis Institute, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Canada


The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) gene-editing technology has been used to inactivate viral DNA as a new strategy to eliminate chronic viral infections, including HIV-1. This utility of CRISPR-Cas9 is challenged by the high heterogeneity of HIV-1 sequences, which requires the design of the single guide RNA (sgRNA; utilized by the CRISPR-Cas9 system to recognize the target DNA) to match a specific HIV-1 strain in an HIV patient. One solution to this challenge is to target the viral primer binding site (PBS), which HIV-1 copies from cellular tRNA3 Lys in each round of reverse transcription and is thus conserved in almost all HIV-1 strains. In this study, we demonstrate that PBS-targeting sgRNA directs Cas9 to cleave the PBS DNA, which evokes deletions or insertions (indels) and strongly diminishes the production of infectious HIV-1. While HIV-1 escapes from PBS-targeting Cas9/sgRNA, unique resistance mechanisms are observed that are dependent on whether the plus or the minus strand of the PBS DNA is bound by sgRNA. Characterization of these viral escape mechanisms will inform future engineering of Cas9 variants that can more potently and persistently inhibit HIV-1 infection.IMPORTANCE The results of this study demonstrate that the gene-editing complex Cas9/sgRNA can be programmed to target and cleave HIV-1 PBS DNA, and thus, inhibit HIV-1 infection. Given that almost all HIV-1 strains have the same PBS, which is copied from the cellular tRNA3 Lys during reverse transcription, PBS-targeting sgRNA can be used to inactivate HIV-1 DNA of different strains. We also discovered that HIV-1 uses different mechanisms to resist Cas9/sgRNAs, depending on whether they target the plus or the minus strand of PBS DNA. These findings allow us to predict that a Cas9 variant that uses the CCA sequence as the protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) should more strongly and persistently suppress HIV-1 replication. Together, these data have identified the PBS as the target DNA of Cas9/sgRNA and have predicted how to improve Cas9/sgRNA to achieve more efficient and sustainable suppression of HIV-1 infection, therefore improving the capacity of Cas9/sgRNA in curing HIV-1 infection.


CRISPR-Cas9; human immunodeficiency virus; primer binding site

[Available on 2019-03-26]

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