Creating a monomeric endonuclease TALE-I-SceI with high specificity and low genotoxicity in human cells

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To correct a DNA mutation in the human genome for gene therapy, homology-directed repair (HDR) needs to be specific and have the lowest off-target effects to protect the human genome from deleterious mutations. Zinc finger nucleases, transcription activator-like effector nuclease (TALEN) and CRISPR-CAS9 systems have been engineered and used extensively to recognize and modify specific DNA sequences. Although TALEN and CRISPR/CAS9 could induce high levels of HDR in human cells, their genotoxicity was significantly higher. Here, we report the creation of a monomeric endonuclease that can recognize at least 33 bp by fusing the DNA-recognizing domain of TALEN (TALE) to a re-engineered homing endonuclease I-SceI. After sequentially re-engineering I-SceI to recognize 18 bp of the human β-globin sequence, the re-engineered I-SceI induced HDR in human cells. When the re-engineered I-SceI was fused to TALE (TALE-ISVB2), the chimeric endonuclease induced the same HDR rate at the human β-globin gene locus as that induced by TALEN, but significantly reduced genotoxicity. We further demonstrated that TALE-ISVB2 specifically targeted at the β-globin sequence in human hematopoietic stem cells. Therefore, this monomeric endonuclease has the potential to be used in therapeutic gene targeting in human cells.

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