Dominant gain-of-function mechanisms in Huntington’s disease (HD) suggest that selective silencing of mutant HTT produces robust therapeutic benefits. Here, capitalizing on exonic protospacer adjacent motif–altering (PAM-altering) SNP (PAS), we developed an allele-specific CRISPR/Cas9 strategy to permanently inactivate mutant HTT through nonsense-mediated decay (NMD). Comprehensive sequence/haplotype analysis identified SNP-generated NGG PAM sites on exons of common HTT haplotypes in HD subjects, revealing a clinically relevant PAS-based mutant-specific CRISPR/Cas9 strategy. Alternative allele of rs363099 (29th exon) eliminates the NGG PAM site on the most frequent normal HTT haplotype in HD, permitting mutant-specific CRISPR/Cas9 therapeutics in a predicted ~20% of HD subjects with European ancestry. Our rs363099-based CRISPR/Cas9 showed perfect allele specificity and good targeting efficiencies in patient-derived cells. Dramatically reduced mutant HTT mRNA and complete loss of mutant protein suggest that our allele-specific CRISPR/Cas9 strategy inactivates mutant HTT through NMD. In addition, GUIDE-Seq analysis and subsequent validation experiments support high levels of on-target gene specificity. Our data demonstrate a significant target population, complete mutant specificity, decent targeting efficiency in patient-derived cells, and minimal off-target effects on protein-coding genes, proving the concept of PAS-based allele-specific NMD-CRISPR/Cas9 and supporting its therapeutic potential in HD.


Jun Wan Shin, Eun Pyo Hong, Seri S. Park, Doo Eun Choi, Ihn Sik Seong, Madelynn N. Whittaker, Benjamin P. Kleinstiver, Richard Z. Chen, Jong-Min Lee


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