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The novel anti-CRISPR AcrIIA22 relieves DNA torsion in target plasmids and impairs SpyCas9 activity

PLoS Biol

2021 Barry Stoddard; Rachel Werther; Kevin Forsberg; Brett Kaiser; Harmit Malik; Deanna Hausman; Danica Schmidtke

To overcome CRISPR-Cas defense systems, many phages and mobile genetic elements (MGEs) encode CRISPR-Cas inhibitors called anti-CRISPRs (Acrs). Nearly all characterized Acrs directly bind Cas proteins to inactivate CRISPR immunity. Here, using functional metagenomic selection, we describe AcrIIA22, an unconventional Acr found in hypervariable genomic regions of clostridial bacteria and their prophages from human gut microbiomes. AcrIIA22 does not bind strongly to SpyCas9 but nonetheless potently inhibits its activity against plasmids. To gain insight into its mechanism, we obtained an X-ray crystal structure of AcrIIA22, which revealed homology to PC4-like nucleic acid-binding proteins. Based on mutational analyses and functional assays, we deduced that acrIIA22 encodes a DNA nickase that relieves torsional stress in supercoiled plasmids. This may render them less susceptible to SpyCas9, which uses free energy from negative supercoils to form stable R-loops. Modifying DNA topology may provide an additional route to CRISPR-Cas resistance in phages and MGEs.

Genetic and structural basis for SARS-CoV-2 variant neutralization by a two-antibody cocktail

Nat Microbiol

2021 Jesse Bloom; Adam Dingens; Allison Greaney; Tyler Starr

Understanding the molecular basis for immune recognition of SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein antigenic sites will inform the development of improved therapeutics. We determined the structures of two human monoclonal antibodies-AZD8895 and AZD1061-which form the basis of the investigational antibody cocktail AZD7442, in complex with the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV-2 to define the genetic and structural basis of neutralization. AZD8895 forms an 'aromatic cage' at the heavy/light chain interface using germ line-encoded residues in complementarity-determining regions (CDRs) 2 and 3 of the heavy chain and CDRs 1 and 3 of the light chain. These structural features explain why highly similar antibodies (public clonotypes) have been isolated from multiple individuals. AZD1061 has an unusually long LCDR1; the HCDR3 makes interactions with the opposite face of the RBD from that of AZD8895. Using deep mutational scanning and neutralization escape selection experiments, we comprehensively mapped the crucial binding residues of both antibodies and identified positions of concern with regards to virus escape from antibody-mediated neutralization. Both AZD8895 and AZD1061 have strong neutralizing activity against SARS-CoV-2 and variants of concern with antigenic substitutions in the RBD. We conclude that germ line-encoded antibody features enable recognition of the SARS-CoV-2 spike RBD and demonstrate the utility of the cocktail AZD7442 in neutralizing emerging variant viruses.

Elicitation of broadly protective sarbecovirus immunity by receptor-binding domain nanoparticle vaccines


2021 Kelly Smith; Jesse Bloom; Tyler Starr; Allison Greaney

Understanding vaccine-elicited protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other sarbecoviruses is key for guiding public health policies. We show that a clinical stage multivalent SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor-binding domain nanoparticle (RBD-NP) vaccine protects mice from SARS-CoV-2 challenge after a single immunization, indicating a potential dose-sparing strategy. We benchmarked serum neutralizing activity elicited by RBD-NPs in non-human primates against a lead prefusion-stabilized SARS-CoV-2 spike (HexaPro) using a panel of circulating mutants. Polyclonal antibodies elicited by both vaccines are similarly resilient to many RBD residue substitutions tested, although mutations at and surrounding position 484 have negative consequences for neutralization. Mosaic and cocktail nanoparticle immunogens displaying multiple sarbecovirus RBDs elicit broad neutralizing activity in mice and protect mice against SARS-CoV challenge even in the absence of SARS-CoV RBD in the vaccine. This study provides proof of principle that multivalent sarbecovirus RBD-NPs induce heterotypic protection and motivates advancing such broadly protective sarbecovirus vaccines to the clinic.

Neutralizing Monoclonal Antibodies That Target the Spike Receptor Binding Domain Confer Fc Receptor-Independent Protection against SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Syrian Hamsters


2021 Allison Greaney; Tyler Starr; Jesse Bloom

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein is the main target for neutralizing antibodies. These antibodies can be elicited through immunization or passively transferred as therapeutics in the form of convalescent-phase sera or monoclonal antibodies (MAbs). Potently neutralizing antibodies are expected to confer protection; however, it is unclear whether weakly neutralizing antibodies contribute to protection. Also, their mechanism of action in vivo is incompletely understood. Here, we demonstrate that 2B04, an antibody with an ultrapotent neutralizing activity (50% inhibitory concentration [IC50] of 0.04 μg/ml), protects hamsters against SARS-CoV-2 in a prophylactic and therapeutic infection model. Protection is associated with reduced weight loss and viral loads in nasal turbinates and lungs after challenge. MAb 2B04 also blocked aerosol transmission of the virus to naive contacts. We next examined three additional MAbs (2C02, 2C03, and 2E06), recognizing distinct epitopes within the receptor binding domain of spike protein that possess either minimal (2C02 and 2E06, IC50 > 20 μg/ml) or weak (2C03, IC50 of 5 μg/ml) virus neutralization capacity in vitro. Only 2C03 protected Syrian hamsters from weight loss and reduced lung viral load after SARS-CoV-2 infection. Finally, we demonstrated that Fc-Fc receptor interactions were not required for protection when 2B04 and 2C03 were administered prophylactically. These findings inform the mechanism of protection and support the rational development of antibody-mediated protection against SARS-CoV-2 infections. IMPORTANCE The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, has resulted in the loss of millions of lives. Safe and effective vaccines are considered the ultimate remedy for the global social and economic disruption caused by the pandemic. However, a thorough understanding of the immune correlates of protection against this virus is lacking. Here, we characterized four different monoclonal antibodies and evaluated their ability to prevent or treat SARS-CoV-2 infection in Syrian hamsters. These antibodies varied in their ability to neutralize the virus in vitro. Prophylactic administration of potent and weakly neutralizing antibodies protected against SARS-CoV-2 infection, and this effect was Fc receptor independent. The potent neutralizing antibody also had therapeutic efficacy and eliminated onward aerosol transmission. In contrast, minimally neutralizing antibodies provided no protection against infection with SARS-CoV-2 in Syrian hamsters. Combined, these studies highlight the significance of weakly neutralizing antibodies in the protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection and associated disease.

Hepsin regulates TGF beta signaling via fibronectin proteolysis


2021 Valeri Vasioukhin; Olga Klezovitch

Transforming growth factor-beta (TGFβ) is a multifunctional cytokine with a well-established role in mammary gland development and both oncogenic and tumor-suppressive functions. The extracellular matrix (ECM) indirectly regulates TGFβ activity by acting as a storage compartment of latent-TGFβ, but how TGFβ is released from the ECM via proteolytic mechanisms remains largely unknown. In this study, we demonstrate that hepsin, a type II transmembrane protease overexpressed in 70% of breast tumors, promotes canonical TGFβ signaling through the release of latent-TGFβ from the ECM storage compartment. Mammary glands in hepsin CRISPR knockout mice showed reduced TGFβ signaling and increased epithelial branching, accompanied by increased levels of fibronectin and latent-TGFβ1, while overexpression of hepsin in mammary tumors increased TGFβ signaling. Cell-free and cell-based experiments showed that hepsin is capable of direct proteolytic cleavage of fibronectin but not latent-TGFβ and, importantly, that the ability of hepsin to activate TGFβ signaling is dependent on fibronectin. Altogether, this study demonstrates a role for hepsin as a regulator of the TGFβ pathway in the mammary gland via a novel mechanism involving proteolytic downmodulation of fibronectin.

ZBTB33 Is Mutated in Clonal Hematopoiesis and Myelodysplastic Syndromes and Impacts RNA Splicing

Blood Cancer Discov

2021 Robert Bradley; Emma Hoppe

Clonal hematopoiesis results from somatic mutations in cancer driver genes in hematopoietic stem cells. We sought to identify novel drivers of clonal expansion using an unbiased analysis of sequencing data from 84,683 persons and identified common mutations in the 5-methylcytosine reader, ZBTB33, as well as in YLPM1, SRCAP, and ZNF318. We also identified these mutations at low frequency in myelodysplastic syndrome patients. Zbtb33 edited mouse hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells exhibited a competitive advantage in vivo and increased genome-wide intron retention. ZBTB33 mutations potentially link DNA methylation and RNA splicing, the two most commonly mutated pathways in clonal hematopoiesis and MDS.

Discovery of synthetic lethal and tumor suppressor paralog pairs in the human genome

Cell Rep

2021 Austin Gabel; Alice Berger; Robert Bradley; James Thomas; Shriya Kamlapurkar; Phoebe Parrish

CRISPR screens have accelerated the discovery of important cancer vulnerabilities. However, single-gene knockout phenotypes can be masked by redundancy among related genes. Paralogs constitute two-thirds of the human protein-coding genome, so existing methods are likely inadequate for assaying a large portion of gene function. Here, we develop paired guide RNAs for paralog genetic interaction mapping (pgPEN), a pooled CRISPR-Cas9 single- and double-knockout approach targeting more than 2,000 human paralogs. We apply pgPEN to two cell types and discover that 12% of human paralogs exhibit synthetic lethality in at least one context. We recover known synthetic lethal paralogs MEK1/MEK2, important drug targets CDK4/CDK6, and other synthetic lethal pairs including CCNL1/CCNL2. Additionally, we identify ten tumor suppressor paralog pairs whose compound loss promotes cell proliferation. These findings nominate drug targets and suggest that paralog genetic interactions could shape the landscape of positive and negative selection in cancer.

Recovery of deleted deep sequencing data sheds more light on the early Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 epidemic

Mol Biol Evol

2021 Jesse Bloom

The origin and early spread of SARS-CoV-2 remains shrouded in mystery. Here I identify a data set containing SARS-CoV-2 sequences from early in the Wuhan epidemic that has been deleted from the NIH's Sequence Read Archive. I recover the deleted files from the Google Cloud, and reconstruct partial sequences of 13 early epidemic viruses. Phylogenetic analysis of these sequences in the context of carefully annotated existing data further supports the idea that the Huanan Seafood Market sequences are not fully representative of the viruses in Wuhan early in the epidemic. Instead, the progenitor of currently known SARS-CoV-2 sequences likely contained three mutations relative to the market viruses that made it more similar to SARS-CoV-2's bat coronavirus relatives.

A precisely adjustable, variation-suppressed eukaryotic transcriptional controller to enable genetic discovery


2021 Roger Brent

Conditional expression of genes and observation of phenotype remain central to biological discovery. Current methods enable either on/off or imprecisely controlled graded gene expression. We developed a 'well-tempered' controller, WTC846, for precisely adjustable, graded, growth condition independent expression of genes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Controlled genes are expressed from a strong semisynthetic promoter repressed by the prokaryotic TetR, which also represses its own synthesis; with basal expression abolished by a second, 'zeroing' repressor. The autorepression loop lowers cell-to-cell variation while enabling precise adjustment of protein expression by a chemical inducer. WTC846 allelic strains in which the controller replaced the native promoters recapitulated known null phenotypes (CDC42, TPI1), exhibited novel overexpression phenotypes (IPL1), showed protein dosage-dependent growth rates and morphological phenotypes (CDC28, TOR2, PMA1 and the hitherto uncharacterized PBR1), and enabled cell cycle synchronization (CDC20). WTC846 defines an 'expression clamp' allowing protein dosage to be adjusted by the experimenter across the range of cellular protein abundances, with limited variation around the setpoint.

Integrative oncogene-dependency mapping identifies RIT1 vulnerabilities and synergies in lung cancer

Nat Commun

2021 Austin Gabel; Shriya Kamlapurkar; Phoebe Parrish; James Thomas; Robert Bradley; John Lee; Atheana Vichas; April Lo; Alice Berger; Emily Hatch; Naomi Nkinsi; Amanda Riley

CRISPR-based cancer dependency maps are accelerating advances in cancer precision medicine, but adequate functional maps are limited to the most common oncogenes. To identify opportunities for therapeutic intervention in other rarer subsets of cancer, we investigate the oncogene-specific dependencies conferred by the lung cancer oncogene, RIT1. Here, genome-wide CRISPR screening in KRAS, EGFR, and RIT1-mutant isogenic lung cancer cells identifies shared and unique vulnerabilities of each oncogene. Combining this genetic data with small-molecule sensitivity profiling, we identify a unique vulnerability of RIT1-mutant cells to loss of spindle assembly checkpoint regulators. Oncogenic RIT1M90I weakens the spindle assembly checkpoint and perturbs mitotic timing, resulting in sensitivity to Aurora A inhibition. In addition, we observe synergy between mutant RIT1 and activation of YAP1 in multiple models and frequent nuclear overexpression of YAP1 in human primary RIT1-mutant lung tumors. These results provide a genome-wide atlas of oncogenic RIT1 functional interactions and identify components of the RAS pathway, spindle assembly checkpoint, and Hippo/YAP1 network as candidate therapeutic targets in RIT1-mutant lung cancer.