Single Copy Transgene Integration in ROSA26 Safe Harbor

Posted by: Thom Saunders on Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Site specific single copy integration of transgenes is ideal because the precise location of the DNA in the genome Is experimentally predetermined, This control means that transgene insertion will not disrupt endogenous genes important for development (Costantini et al. 1989, Meisler et al. 1992). Use of Cas9 to target the integration site and complete sequencing of the inserted transgene and environs will validate transgene location and structure. In contrast to targeted integration, the examination of random transgene integration events shows complex rearrangements of chromosomal DNA and transgene DNA at integration sites that resemble chromothripsis (Chiang et al., 2012, Dubose et al., 2013). Such unpredictable genetic structures are difficult to define and complicate analysis of Cas9 action on reporter transgenes. To facilitate rapid analysis of on-and off target sites at the DNA level a defined transgene integration site is necessary. The selected site of integration should be a safe harbor site that is permissive for transgene expression directed by heterologous promoters. The surrounding genomic DNA should not contain strong promoter elements that can affect the desired pattern of transgene expression. The ROSA26 locus satisfies these requirements.

Since its initial identification (Zambrowicz et al., 1997) the mouse ROSA26 locus has been recognized as a genomic location that is permissive of gene expression (Chen et al., 2011, Soriano, 1999). For example, there are over 1000 mouse models based on the ROSA26 gene targeting because it is an ideal safe harbor (Blake et al., 2017). Cas9 has been used to target transgenes of various sizes to the mouse ROSA26 locus (Bressan et al., 2017, Chu et al., 2016, Quadros et al., 2015, Yoshimi et al., 2016, Wu et al., 2018). Targeting mouse ROSA26 with reporter transgenes designed to detect Cas9 activity is very straightforward. Targeting the rat ROSA26 locus with Cas9 has also been performed and is also a straightforward process (Charpentier et al., 2018, Ma et al., 2017, Menoret et al, 2015, Yoshimi et al., 2016). The integration of transgenes with Cas9 in mouse and rat ROSA26 is very efficient.

Safe harbor sites for transgene integration defined by retroviral insertions in mouse genomic DNA include ROSA26 (Zambrowicz et al. 1997, Soriano, 1999), Igs7 (TIGRE) (Zeng et al. 2008, Madisen et al., 2015), and Igs2 (Hipp11) (Hippenmeyer et al., 2010, Tasic et al., 2011). Compared to the more than 1000 ROSA26 mouse models, relatively few models exist at Igs2 (17) or Igs7 (26) (Blake et al., 2017). Analysis of the genomic sequences of the ROSA26 integration site shows it is free of repetitive sequences that can make long range PCR inefficient. On the other hand, the Igs2 and Igs7 sites are contaminated with repetitive sequences that that can reduce the efficiency of gene targeting by homologous recombination in ES cells or by HDR in zygotes. Of these three genomic docking sites ROSA26 is the only one that has been targeted by Cas9 or zinc finger nucleases. Thus ROSA26 is preferred to other insertion sites defined by viral mutagenesis.

Other safe harbor sites include the hypoxanthine guanine phosphoribosyl transferase 1 (Hprt1) locus and the 3’ untranslated region (UTR) of collagen type 1 alpha chain 1 (Col1a1). These sites have been targeted in mouse ES cell to insert single copy transgenes in 497 Hprt1 targeted mouse models and 169 Col1a1 mouse models (Blake et al., 2017). These sites are permissive for transgene expression (Hooper et al., 1987, Bronson et al., 1996, Yang et al., 2009, Beard et al., 2006, Dow et al., 2012). Hprt1 gene targeting in ES cells is dependent on the repair of a pre-existing 36 kb deletion that disrupts Hprt1 expression in E14Tg2a ES cells and its derivatives. Hprt1 targeting in ES cells is dependent on HPRT repair so that drug selection can be used to enrich for correctly targeted ES cell clones. To precisely reproduce this genomic feature in mice or rats to create a safe harbor site is not consistent with the timeline for deliverables in this proposal. In principle, Cas9 reagents to target the Col1a1 gene targeting site used in ES is possible, however there are no published reports are available to demonstrate feasibility. Repair of Cas9-induced chromosome breaks can result in the deletion of hundreds of base pairs (Shin et al., 2017). If such an event disrupts COL1A1 expression the result can be prenatal lethality in homozygous mutants (Jaenisch et al., 1983) or osteogenesis imperfecta in heterozygotes (Bonadio et al., 1990). In principle the inactivation of a protein coding gene that causes a phenotype is not desirable in the design of a reporter animal model. Analysis of genomic sequences at the Col1a1 integration site shows the presence of repetitive elements that will complicate correct gene targeting. Thus the targeting of either Hprt1 or Col1a1 offer no advantages over targeting the ROSA26 site.

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