Mitigation of off-target toxicity in CRISPR-Cas9 screens for essential non-coding elements.
Nature communications. 2019 Sep 6;10(1):4063.
- Pooled CRISPR-Cas9 screens are a powerful method for functionally characterizing regulatory elements in the non-coding genome, but off-target effects in these experiments have not been systematically evaluated. Here, we investigate Cas9, dCas9, and CRISPRi/a off-target activity in screens for essential regulatory elements. The sgRNAs with the largest effects in genome-scale screens for essential CTCF loop anchors in K562 cells were not single guide RNAs (sgRNAs) that disrupted gene expression near the on-target CTCF anchor. Rather, these sgRNAs had high off-target activity that, while only weakly correlated with absolute off-target site number, could be predicted by the recently developed GuideScan specificity score. Screens conducted in parallel with CRISPRi/a, which do not induce double-stranded DNA breaks, revealed that a distinct set of off-targets also cause strong confounding fitness effects with these epigenome-editing tools. Promisingly, filtering of CRISPRi libraries using GuideScan specificity scores removed these confounded sgRNAs and enabled identification of essential regulatory elements.