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Detailed metabolic phenotyping of four tissue specific Cas9 transgenic mouse lines

By Simon T. Bond, Aowen Zhuang, Christine Yang, Eleanor A.M. Gould, Tim Sikora, Yingying Liu, Ying Fu, Kevin I Watt, Yanie Tan, Helen Kiriazis, Graeme I. Lancaster, Paul Gregorevic, Darren C Henstridge, Julie R. McMullen, Peter J Meikle, Anna C. Calkin, Brian G Drew

Posted 01 Apr 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.31.436695

CRISPR/Cas9 technology has revolutionized gene editing and fast tracked our capacity to manipulate genes of interest for the benefit of both research and therapeutic applications. Whilst many advances have, and continue to be made in this area, perhaps the most utilized technology to date has been the generation of knockout cells, tissues and animals by taking advantage of Cas9 function to promote indels in precise locations in the genome. Whilst the advantages of this technology are many fold, some questions still remain regarding the effects that long term expression of foreign proteins such as Cas9, have on mammalian cell function. Several studies have proposed that chronic overexpression of Cas9, with or without its accompanying guide RNAs, may have deleterious effects on cell function and health. This is of particular concern when applying this technology in vivo, where chronic expression of Cas9 in tissues of interest may promote disease-like phenotypes and thus confound the investigation of the effects of the gene of interest. Although these concerns remain valid, no study to our knowledge has yet to demonstrate this directly. Thus, in this study we used the lox-stop-lox (LSL) spCas9 ROSA26 transgenic (Tg) mouse line to generate four tissue-specific Cas9-Tg models with expression in the heart, liver, skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. We performed comprehensive phenotyping of these mice up to 20-weeks of age and subsequently performed molecular analysis of their organs. We demonstrated that Cas9 expression in these tissues had no detrimental effect on whole body health of the animals, nor did it induce any tissue-specific effects on energy metabolism, liver health, inflammation, fibrosis, heart function or muscle mass. Thus, our data suggests that these models are suitable for studying the tissue specific effects of gene deletion using the LSL-Cas9-Tg model, and that phenotypes observed utilizing these models can be confidently interpreted as being gene specific, and not confounded by the chronic overexpression of Cas9.

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