Programmable DNA binding and cleavage by CRISPR-Cas9 has revolutionized the life sciences. However, the off-target cleavage observed in DNA sequences with some homology to the target still represents a major limitation for a more widespread use of Cas9 in biology and medicine. For this reason, complete understanding of the dynamics of DNA binding, interrogation and cleavage by Cas9 is crucial to improve the efficiency of genome editing. Here, we use high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) to investigate Staphylococcus aureus Cas9 (SaCas9) and its dynamics of DNA binding and cleavage. Upon binding to single -guide RNA (sgRNA), SaCas9 forms a close bilobed structure that transiently and flexibly adopts also an open configuration. The SaCas9-mediated DNA cleavage is characterized by release of cleaved DNA and immediate dissociation, confirming that SaCas9 operates as a multiple turnover endonuclease. According to present knowledge, the process of searching for target DNA is mainly governed by three-dimensional diffusion. Independent HS-AFM experiments show a potential long-range attractive interaction between SaCas9-sgRNA and its target DNA. The interaction precedes the formation of the stable ternary complex and is observed exclusively in the vicinity of the protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM), up to distances of several nanometers. The direct visualization of the process by sequential topographic images suggests that SaCas9-sgRNA binds to the target sequence first, while the following binding of the PAM is accompanied by local DNA bending and formation of the stable complex. Collectively, our HS-AFM data reveal a potential and unexpected behavior of SaCas9 during the search for DNA targets.
Dynamics of Target DNA Binding and Cleavage by Staphylococcus aureus Cas9 as Revealed by High-Speed Atomic Force Microscopy / Puppulin, Leonardo; Ishikawa, Junichiro; Sumino, Ayumi; Marchesi, Arin; Flechsig, Holger; Umeda, Kenichi; Kodera, Noriyuki; Nishimasu, Hiroshi; Shibata, Mikihiro. - In: ACS NANO. - ISSN 1936-0851. - 17:5(2023), pp. 4629-4641. [10.1021/acsnano.2c10709]