O'Geen H., Henry I. M., Bhakta M. S., Meckler J. F., Segal D. J.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) RNA-guided nucleases have gathered considerable excitement as a tool for genome engineering. However, questions remain about the specificity of their target site recognition. Most previous studies have examined predicted off-target binding sites that differ from the perfect target site by one to four mismatches, which represent only a subset of genomic regions. Here, we use ChIP-seq to examine genome-wide CRISPR binding specificity at gRNA-specific and gRNA-independent sites. For two guide RNAs targeting the murine Snurf gene promoter, we observed very high binding specificity at the intended target site while off-target binding was observed at 2- to 6-fold lower intensities. We also identified significant gRNA-independent off-target binding. Interestingly, we found that these regions are highly enriched in the PAM site, a sequence required for target site recognition by CRISPR. To determine the relationship between Cas9 binding and endonuclease activity, we used targeted sequence capture as a high-throughput approach to survey a large number of the potential off-target sites identified by ChIP-seq or computational prediction. A high frequency of indels was observed at both target sites and one off-target site, while no cleavage activity could be detected at other ChIP-bound regions. Our data is consistent with recent finding that most interactions between the CRISPR nuclease complex and genomic PAM sites are transient and do not lead to DNA cleavage. The interactions are stabilized by gRNAs with good matches to the target sequence adjacent to the PAM site, resulting in target cleavage activity.