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  1. Abstract

    CRISPR-Cas systems provide adaptive immunity in bacteria and archaea, beginning with integration of foreign sequences into the host CRISPR genomic locus and followed by transcription and maturation of CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs). In some CRISPR systems, a reverse transcriptase (RT) fusion to the Cas1 integrase and Cas6 maturase creates a single protein that enables concerted sequence integration and crRNA production. To elucidate how the RT-integrase organizes distinct enzymatic activities, we present the cryo-EM structure of a Cas6-RT-Cas1—Cas2 CRISPR integrase complex. The structure reveals a heterohexamer in which the RT directly contacts the integrase and maturase domains, suggesting functional coordination between all three active sites. Together with biochemical experiments, our data support a model of sequential enzymatic activities that enable CRISPR sequence acquisition from RNA and DNA substrates. These findings highlight an expanded capacity of some CRISPR systems to acquire diverse sequences that direct CRISPR-mediated interference.

  2. Kursula, Petri (Ed.)
    Short segments of RNA displace one strand of a DNA duplex during diverse processes including transcription and CRISPR-mediated immunity and genome editing. These strand exchange events involve the intersection of two geometrically distinct helix types—an RNA:DNA hybrid (A-form) and a DNA:DNA homoduplex (B-form). Although previous evidence suggests that these two helices can stack on each other, it is unknown what local geometric adjustments could enable A-on-B stacking. Here we report the X-ray crystal structure of an RNA-5′/DNA-3′ strand exchange junction at an anisotropic resolution of 1.6 to 2.2 Å. The structure reveals that the A-to-B helical transition involves a combination of helical axis misalignment, helical axis tilting and compression of the DNA strand within the RNA:DNA helix, where nucleotides exhibit a mixture of A- and B-form geometry. These structural principles explain previous observations of conformational stability in RNA/DNA exchange junctions, enabling a nucleic acid architecture that is repeatedly populated during biological strand exchange events.
  3. CRISPR-Cas9 is an RNA-guided DNA endonuclease involved in bacterial adaptive immunity and widely repurposed for genome editing in human cells, animals and plants. In bacteria, RNA molecules that guide Cas9′s activity derive from foreign DNA fragments that are captured and integrated into the host CRISPR genomic locus by the Cas1-Cas2 CRISPR integrase. How cells generate the specific lengths of DNA required for integrase capture is a central unanswered question of type II-A CRISPR-based adaptive immunity. Here, we show that an integrase supercomplex comprising guide RNA and the proteins Cas1, Cas2, Csn2 and Cas9 generates precisely trimmed 30-base pair DNA molecules required for genome integration. The HNH active site of Cas9 catalyzes exonucleolytic DNA trimming by a mechanism that is independent of the guide RNA sequence. These results show that Cas9 possesses a distinct catalytic capacity for generating immunological memory in prokaryotes.