Clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins, particularly Cas9, have provided unprecedented control on targeting and editing specific DNA sequences. If the target sequences are prone to folding into noncanonical secondary structures, such as G-quadruplex (GQ), the conformational states and activity of the CRISPR-Cas9 complex may be influenced, but the impact has not been assessed. Using single molecule FRET, we investigated structural characteristics of the complex formed by CRISPR-Cas9 and target DNA, which contains a potentially GQ forming sequence (PQS) in either the target or the nontarget strand (TS or NTS). We observed different conformational states and dynamics depending on the stability of the GQ and the position of PQS. When PQS was in NTS, we observed evidence for GQ formation for both weak and stable GQs. This is consistent with R-loop formation between TS and crRNA releasing NTS from Watson-Crick pairing and facilitating secondary structure formation in it. When PQS was in TS, R-loop formation was adequate to maintain a weak GQ in the unfolded state but not a GQ with moderate or high stability. The observed structural heterogeneity within the target dsDNA and the R-loop strongly depended on whether the PQS was in TS or NTS. We propose these variations in the complex structures to have functional implications for Cas9 activity.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
H.B. was supported by a Marie-Curie Fellowship from the European Commission (795567). C.J. was supported by Vidi (864.14.002) of The Netherlands Organization for Scientific research and an ERC Consolidator Grant (819299) of the European Research Council.
© 2021 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society.