CRISPR-Cas9 is a widely employed genome-editing tool with functionality reliant on the ability of the Cas9 endonuclease to introduce site-specific breaks in double-stranded DNA. In this system, an intriguing allosteric communication has been suggested to control its DNA cleavage activity through flexibility of the catalytic HNH domain. Here, solution NMR experiments and a novel Gaussian-accelerated molecular dynamics (GaMD) simulation method are used to capture the structural and dynamic determinants of allosteric signaling within the HNH domain. We reveal the existence of a millisecond time scale dynamic pathway that spans HNH from the region interfacing the adjacent RuvC nuclease and propagates up to the DNA recognition lobe in full-length CRISPR-Cas9. These findings reveal a potential route of signal transduction within the CRISPR-Cas9 HNH nuclease, advancing our understanding of the allosteric pathway of activation. Further, considering the role of allosteric signaling in the specificity of CRISPR-Cas9, this work poses the mechanistic basis for novel engineering efforts aimed at improving its genome-editing capability.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry