by Haihua Xie, Xianglian Ge, Fayu Yang, Bang Wang, Shuang Li, Jinzhi Duan, Xiujuan Lv, Congsheng Cheng, Zongming Song, Changbao Liu, Junzhao Zhao, Yu Zhang, Jinyu Wu, Caixia Gao, Jinwei Zhang, Feng Gu
CRISPR-Staphylococcus aureus Cas9 (CRISPR-SaCas9) has been harnessed as an effective in vivo genome-editing tool to manipulate genomes. However, off-target effects remain a major bottleneck that precludes safe and reliable applications in genome editing. Here, we characterize the off-target effects of wild-type (WT) SaCas9 at single-nucleotide (single-nt) resolution and describe a directional screening system to identify novel SaCas9 variants with desired properties in human cells. Using this system, we identified enhanced-fidelity SaCas9 (efSaCas9) (variant Mut268 harboring the single mutation of N260D), which could effectively distinguish and reject single base-pair mismatches. We demonstrate dramatically reduced off-target effects (approximately 2- to 93-fold improvements) of Mut268 compared to WT using targeted deep-sequencing analyses. To understand the structural origin of the fidelity enhancement, we find that N260, located in the REC3 domain, orchestrates an extensive network of contacts between REC3 and the guide RNA-DNA heteroduplex. efSaCas9 can be broadly used in genome-editing applications that require high fidelity. Furthermore, this study provides a general strategy to rapidly evolve other desired CRISPR-Cas9 traits besides enhanced fidelity, to expand the utility of the CRISPR toolkit.