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First Steps toward Uncovering Gene Doping with CRISPR/Cas by Identifying SpCas9 in Plasma via HPLC–HRMS/MS

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journal contribution
posted on 25.11.2020, 22:05 by Alina Paßreiter, Andreas Thomas, Nicolas Grogna, Philippe Delahaut, Mario Thevis
The discovery of the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated (CRISPR/Cas) system as a programmable, RNA-guided endonuclease has revolutionized the utilization of gene technology. Because it enables the precise modification of any desired DNA sequence and surpasses all hitherto existing alternatives for gene editing in many ways, it is one of the most frequently used tools for genome editing. However, these advantages also potentially facilitate the illicit use of the CRISPR/Cas system in order to achieve performance-enhancing effects in sporting competitions. This abuse is classified as gene doping, which is banned in sports according to the Prohibited List of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Therefore, there is a pressing need for an adequate analytical method to detect the misuse of the CRISPR/Cas system by athletes. Hence, the first aim accomplished with this study was the identification of the exogenous protein Cas9 from the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes (SpCas9) in plasma samples by means of a bottom-up analytical approach via immunoaffinity purification, tryptic digestion, and subsequent detection by HPLC–HRMS/MS. A qualitative method validation was conducted with three specific peptides allowing for a limit of detection of 25 ng/mL. Additionally, it was shown that the developed method is also applicable to the detection of (illicit) gene regulation through the identification of catalytically inactive Cas9. A proof-of-concept administration study employing an in vivo mouse model revealed a detection window of SpCas9 for up to 8 h post administration, confirming the suitability of the test strategy for the analysis of authentic doping control samples.