Quantification of the affinities of CRISPR–Cas9 nucleases for cognate protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) sequences

Vladimir Mekler, Konstantin Kuznedelov, Konstantin Severinov

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9 Citations (Scopus)


The CRISPR/Cas9 nucleases have been widely applied for genome editing in various organisms. Cas9 nucleases complexed with a guide RNA (Cas9 – gRNA) find their targets by scanning and interrogating the genomic DNA for sequences complementary to the gRNA. Recognition of the DNA target sequence requires a short protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) located outside this sequence. Given that the efficiency of target location may depend on the strength of interactions that promote target recognition, here we sought to compare affinities of different Cas9 nucleases for their cognate PAM sequences. To this end, we measured affinities of Cas9 nucleases from Streptococcus pyogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Francisella novicida complexed with guide RNAs (gRNAs) (SpCas9 – gRNA, SaCas9 – gRNA, and FnCas9 – gRNA, respectively) and of three engineered SpCas9 – gRNA variants with altered PAM specificities for short, PAM-containing DNA probes. We used a “beacon” assay that measures the relative affinities of DNA probes by determining their ability to competitively affect the rate of Cas9 – gRNA binding to fluorescently labeled target DNA derivatives called “Cas9 beacons.” We observed significant differences in the affinities for cognate PAM sequences among the studied Cas9 enzymes. The relative affinities of SpCas9 – gRNA and its engineered variants for canonical and suboptimal PAMs correlated with previous findings on the efficiency of these PAM sequences in genome editing. These findings suggest that high affinity of a Cas9 nuclease for its cognate PAM promotes higher genome-editing efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6509-6517
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


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