Lisa M. Riedmayr, Klara S. Hinrichsmeyer, Nina Karguth, Sybille Böhm, Victoria Splith, Stylianos Michalakis & Elvir Becirovic
Many disease-causing genes possess functionally equivalent counterparts, which are often expressed in distinct cell types. An attractive gene therapy approach for inherited disorders caused by mutations in such genes is to transcriptionally activate the appropriate counterpart(s) to compensate for the missing gene function. This approach offers key advantages over conventional gene therapies because it is mutation- and gene size–independent. Here, we describe a protocol for the design, execution and evaluation of such gene therapies using dCas9-VPR. We offer guidelines on how to identify functionally equivalent genes, design and clone single guide RNAs and evaluate transcriptional activation in vitro. Moreover, focusing on inherited retinal diseases, we provide a detailed protocol on how to apply this strategy in mice using dual recombinant adeno-associated virus vectors and how to evaluate its functionality and off-target effects in the target tissue. This strategy is in principle applicable to all organisms that possess functionally equivalent genes suitable for transcriptional activation and addresses pivotal unmet needs in gene therapy with high translational potential. The protocol can be completed in 15–20 weeks.
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