DNA target site recognition and toward gene targeting in mammalian cells by the Ll.LtrB group II intron RNP
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Mobile group II introns insert site-specifically into DNA target sites through a mechanism ("retrohoming") that involves reverse splicing of the intron RNA into the DNA and its subsequent reverse transcription by an intron-encoded protein (IEP) that is associated with the RNA in a ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex. Characterization of this RNP complex and its retrohoming activities have enabled the development of programmable mobile group II intron gene targeting vectors routinely used in prokaryotic organisms. Building upon recent research by our lab to develop gene targeting in Xenopus laevis and Drosophila melanogaster using the group II intron Ll.LtrB from Lactococcus lactis, I describe work to extend this system to mammalian cells. I demonstrate that group II intron RNPs can be delivered to mammalian cells efficiently and produced in vivo via a CMV/T7 hybrid expression system. Using a robust single-strand annealing assay to detect homologous recombination induced by double-strand breaks (DSBs), I found that group II intron-mediated DSBs are efficiently repaired by mammalian cells. Despite varied approaches, I failed to detect endogenous group II intron-mediated gene targeting in human and mouse cells in culture. Gene expression microarray analysis and in vivo imaging of RNP molecules indicated that group II intron RNPs are sequestered away from the genome and induce host innate immune responses. I also investigated how the C-terminal DNA-binding domain of the Ll.LtrB IEP contributes to DNA target site recognition. Building upon previous mass spectrophotometric analysis of site-specific UV-crosslinking, I used genetic and biochemical analyses to identify potential protein contacts for key target site residues T-23 and T+5. Genetic selection of mutants in a region contacting T+5 led to identification of LtrA variants with increased retrohoming efficiency. My results provide evidence that the DNA-binding domain of a group II intron reverse transcriptase functions in DNA target site recognition and suggest new methods for changing its DNA target specificity and targeting efficiency.