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Chemically Modified Cpf1-CRISPR RNAs Mediate Efficient Genome Editing in Mammalian Cells


CRISPR-based gene editing is a powerful technology for engineering mammalian genomes. It holds the potential as a therapeutic, although much-needed in vivo delivery systems have yet to be established. Here, using the Cpf1-crRNA (CRISPR RNA) crystal structure as a guide, we synthesized a series of systematically truncated and chemically modified crRNAs, and identify positions that are amenable to modification while retaining gene-editing activity. Modified crRNAs were designed with the same modifications that provide protection against nucleases and enable wide distribution in vivo. We show crRNAs with chemically modified terminal nucleotides are exonuclease resistant while retaining gene-editing activity. Chemically modified or DNA-substituted nucleotides at select positions and up to 70% of the crRNA DNA specificity region are also well tolerated. In addition, gene-editing activity is maintained with phosphorothioate backbone substitutions in the crRNA DNA specificity region. Finally, we demonstrate that 42-mer synthetic crRNAs from the similar CRISPR-Cas9 system are taken up by cells, an attractive property for in vivo delivery. Our study is the first to show that chemically modified crRNAs of the CRISPR-Cpf1 system can functionally replace and mediate comparable gene editing to the natural crRNA, which holds the potential for enhancing both viral- and non-viral-mediated in vivo gene editing.

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