Optimization of a CRISPR/Cas9 Screening Toolbox for Defining Regulators of Hemogenic Reprogramming

June 30, 2022
MSc. Thesis - Lund University

Nina Lipjankic

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Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation has been used as the primary curative treatment for a variety of hematologic malignancies. Generation of patient-tailored HSCsin vitro by direct cellular reprogramming has the potential to overcome major limitations of current treatments. Using this method, somatic cells can be converted into different lineages through enforced expression of transcription factors (TFs). The expression of GATA2, FOS and GFI1B (GaFoGi) TFs reprograms human dermal fibroblasts (HDFs) into HSC-like cells. The mechanisms and regulators underlying this dynamic process remain elusive. Genome-wide engineering screening approaches provide an opportunity to map reprogramming regulators and to improve the efficiency of the process.

This project aimed to optimize a CRISPR/Cas9 screening toolbox for defining regulators of hemogenic reprogramming. We first compared knockout efficiency of conditional and constitutive Cas9 enzymes and showed that the constitutive Cas9 yields higher knockout efficiency when compared to the inducible Cas9 system. We have also demonstrated that a multiplicity of infection of 1 is both sufficient and optimal to achieve effective knockout. In parallel, we have optimized the transduction of a sgRNA library targeting 104 genes required for HSC self-renewal and proliferation. Finally, we have improved the delivery of the hemogenic TFs to fibroblasts using a single lentiviral vector. By comparing lentiviral vectors expressing GaFoGi under the control of multiple promoters, we showed that expression of GaFoGi under the spleen focus forming virus promoter generates CD34+CD9+ACE+CD49f+ hemogenic cells at highest efficiency. This strategy has allowed us to define reprogrammed and partial reprogrammed populations for cell sorting and screening of regulators.

The findings of this study provide a foundation for CRISPR/Cas9 screening to define transcriptional and epigenetic regulators of hematopoietic reprogramming. Ultimately, the identification of molecular facilitators and barriers of reprogramming will allow generation of human HSC-like cells at high efficiency and fidelity for autologous or allogenic transplantation.