16 April 2014
Precise genome editing in complex genomes is enabled by engineered nucleases that can be programmed to cleave in a site-specific manner. Here, we fused the small, sequence-tolerant monomeric nuclease domain from the homing endonuclease I-TevI to transcription-like activator effectors (TALEs) to create monomeric Tev-TALE nucleases (Tev-mTALENs). Using the PthXo1 TALE scaffold to optimize the Tev-mTALEN architecture, we found that choice of the N-terminal fusion point on the TALE greatly influenced activity in yeast-based assays, and that the length of the linker used affected the optimal spacing of the TALE binding site from the I-TevI cleavage site, specified by the motif 5′-CNNNG-3′. By assaying activity on all 64 possible sequence variants of this motif, we discovered that in the Tev-mTALEN context, I-TevI prefers A/T-rich triplets over G/C-rich ones at the cleavage site. Profiling of nucleotide requirements in the DNA spacer that separates the CNNNG motif from the TALE binding site revealed substantial, but not complete, tolerance to sequence variation. Tev-mTALENs showed robust mutagenic activity on an episomal target in HEK 293T cells consistent with specific cleavage followed by nonhomologous end-joining repair. Our data substantiate the applicability of Tev-mTALENs as genome-editing tools but highlight DNA spacer and cleavage site nucleotide preferences that, while enhancing specificity, do confer moderate targeting constraints.