Achieving CRISPR Cas9-based manipulation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has been a long-standing goal and would be of great relevance for disease modeling and for clinical applications. In this project, we aimed to deliver Cas9 into the mitochondria of human cells and analyzed Cas9-induced mtDNA cleavage and measured the resulting mtDNA depletion with multiplexed qPCR. In initial experiments, we found that measuring subtle effects on mtDNA copy numbers is challenging because of high biological variability, and detected no significant Cas9-caused mtDNA degradation. To overcome the challenge of being able to detect Cas9 activity on mtDNA, we delivered cytosine base editor Cas9-BE3 to mitochondria and measured its effect (C → T mutations) on mtDNA. Unlike regular Cas9-cutting, this leaves a permanent mark on mtDNA that can be detected with amplicon sequencing, even if the efficiency is low. We detected low levels of C → T mutations in cells that were exposed to mitochondrially targeted Cas9-BE3, but, surprisingly, these occurred regardless of whether a guide RNA (gRNA) specific to the targeted site, or non-targeting gRNA was used. This unspecific off-target activity shows that Cas9-BE3 can technically edit mtDNA, but also strongly indicates that gRNA import to mitochondria was not successful. Going forward mitochondria-targeted Cas9 base editors will be a useful tool for validating successful gRNA delivery to mitochondria without the ambiguity of approaches that rely on quantifying mtDNA copy numbers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18687
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Dec

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Cell and Molecular Biology


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