Targeted Knockout of the Vegfa Gene in the Retina by Subretinal Injection of RNP Complexes Containing Cas9 Protein and Modified sgRNAs

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The therapeutic effect of retinal gene therapy using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing and knockout applications is dependent on efficient and safe delivery of gene-modifying tool kits. Recently, transient administration of single guide RNAs (sgRNAs) and SpCas9 proteins delivered as ribonucleoproteins (RNPs) has provided potent gene knockout in vitro. To improve efficacy of CRISPR-based gene therapy, we delivered RNPs containing SpCas9 protein complexed to chemically modified sgRNAs (msgRNAs). In K562 cells, msgRNAs significantly increased the insertion/deletion (indel) frequency (25%) compared with unmodified counterparts leading to robust knockout of the VEGFA gene encoding vascular endothelial growth factor A (96% indels). Likewise, in HEK293 cells, lipoplexes containing varying amounts of RNP and EGFP mRNA showed efficient VEGFA knockout (43% indels) and strong EGFP expression, indicative of efficacious functional knockout using small amounts of RNP. In mice, subretinal injections of equivalent lipoplexes yielded 6% indels in Vegfa of isolated EGFP-positive RPE cells. However, signs of toxicity following delivery of lipoplexes containing high amounts of RNP were observed. Although the mechanism resulting in the varying efficacy remains to be elucidated, our data suggest that a single subretinal injection of RNPs carrying msgRNAs and SpCas9 induces targeted retinal indel formation, thus providing a clinically relevant strategy relying on nonviral delivery of short-lived nuclease activity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Therapy
Volume29
Issue1
Pages (from-to)191-207
ISSN1525-0016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

    Research areas

  • Cas9, age-related macular degeneration, chemically modified single guide RNAs, gene knockout, nonviral gene therapy, retina pigment epithelium, ribonucleoproteins, short-lived nuclease activity, vascular endothelial growth factor A

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