Meiotic Cas9 expression mediates gene conversion in the male and female mouse germline

A. J. Weitzel, H. A. Grunwald, C. Weber, R. Levina, V. M. Gantz, S. M. Hedrick, E. Bier and K. L. Cooper,  PLOS Biology,  19:e3001478. 2021.

Highly efficient gene conversion systems have the potential to facilitate the study of complex genetic traits using laboratory mice and, if implemented as a “gene drive,” to limit loss of biodiversity and disease transmission caused by wild rodent populations. We previously showed that such a system of gene conversion from heterozygous to homozygous after a sequence targeted CRISPR/Cas9 double-strand DNA break (DSB) is feasible in the female mouse germline. In the male germline, however, all DSBs were instead repaired by end joining (EJ) mechanisms to form an “insertion/deletion” (indel) mutation. These observations suggested that timing Cas9 expression to coincide with meiosis I is critical to favor conditions when homologous chromosomes are aligned and interchromosomal homology directed repair (HDR) mechanisms predominate. Here, using a Cas9 knock-in allele at the Spo11 locus, we show that meiotic expression of Cas9 does indeed mediate gene conversion in the male as well as in the female germline. However, the low frequency of both HDR and indel mutation in both male and female germlines suggests that Cas9 may be expressed from the Spo11 locus at levels too low for efficient DSB formation. We suggest that more robust Cas9 expression initiated during early meiosis I may improve the efficiency of gene conversion and further increase the rate of “super-mendelian” inheritance from both male and female mice.

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