In vitro genome editing activity of Cas9 in somatic cells after random and transposon-based genomic Cas9 integration
Due to its close resemblance, the domesticated pig has proven to be a diverse animal model for biomedical research and genome editing tools have contributed to developing porcine models for several human diseases. By employing the CRISPR-Cas9 system, porcine embryos or somatic cells can be genetically modified to generate the desired genotype. However, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) of modified somatic cells and embryo manipulation are challenging, especially if the desired genotype is detrimental to the embryo. Direct in vivo edits may facilitate the production of genetically engineered pigs by integrating Cas9 into the porcine genome. Cas9 expressing cells were generated by either random integration or transposon-based integration of Cas9 and used as donor cells in SCNT. In total, 15 animals were generated that carried a transposon-based Cas9 integration and two pigs a randomly integrated Cas9. Cas9 expression was confirmed in muscle, tonsil, spleen, kidney, lymph nodes, oral mucosa, and liver in two boars. Overall, Cas9 expression was higher for transposon-based integration, except in tonsils and liver. To verify Cas9 activity, fibroblasts were subjected to in vitro genome editing. Isolated fibroblasts were transfected with guide RNAs (gRNA) targeting different genes (GGTA1, B4GALNT2, B2M) relevant to xenotransplantation. Next generation sequencing revealed that the editing efficiencies varied (2–60%) between the different target genes. These results show that the integrated Cas9 remained functional, and that Cas9 expressing pigs may be used to induce desired genomic modifications to model human diseases or further evaluate in vivo gene therapy approaches.