Specific activation of endogenous genes can be achieved by programmable artificial transcription factors (ATFs). In this study, we compared two artificial, programmable, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-based, ubiquitous transcription factors: Deficient CRISPR-associated protein 9 (dCas9)-VP64 (CRISPRa) alone, or a combination of dCas9-VP64 and MS2-P65-HSF1 [synergistic activation mediator (SAM) system] mediated activation of five pluripotency genes: KLF4 (K), LIN28 (L), MYC (M), OCT4 (O), and SOX2 (S) in human cells (HEK293T, HeLa, HepG2, and primary fibroblasts). Activation potential was monitored using a luciferase reporter system and we found that both CRISPRa and SAM can efficiently activate the proximal promoter of all five genes. We also observed that the guide RNA (gRNA) target sites and number of gRNAs have a major effect on gRNA-guided activation efficiency. Furthermore, increased activation efficiency (>3-folds) could be achieved by the SAM system compared to CRISPRa. In addition, we discovered that only the SAM system could efficiently activate LIN28, OCT4, and SOX2 expression (up to 100-folds compared to coexpression with a scrambled gRNA) in primary human fibroblasts. This SAM-mediated activation of LOS can be stably maintained for over 20 days in fibroblasts cultured in either fibroblasts or stem cell medium. However, when attempting to use the SAM-LOS activation as an approach for induced pluripotent stem cells-reprogramming, no embryonic stem-like colonies could be obtained from these SAM fibroblasts. In conclusion, our study showed that CRISPR/Cas9-based ATFs are potent to activate and maintain transcription of endogenous human pluripotent genes. However, future improvements of the system are still required to improve activation efficiency and cellular reprogramming using ATFs.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells
- Pluripotency genes