Arne H. Smits, Frederik Ziebell, Gerard Joberty, …, Lars M. Steinmetz, Gerard Drewes and Wolfgang Huber.
Gene knockouts (KOs) are efficiently engineered through CRISPR-Cas9-induced frameshift mutations. While DNA editing efficiency is readily verified by DNA sequencing, a systematic understanding of the efficiency of protein elimination has been lacking. Here, we devised an experimental strategy combining RNA-seq and triple-stage mass spectrometry to characterize 193 genetically verified deletions targeting 136 distinct genes generated by CRISPR-induced frameshifts in HAP1 cells. We observed residual protein expression for about one third of the quantified targets, at variable levels from low to original, and identified two causal mechanisms, translation reinitiation leading to N-terminally truncated target proteins, or skipping of the edited exon leading to protein isoforms with internal sequence deletions. Detailed analysis of three truncated targets, BRD4, DNMT1 and NGLY1, revealed partial preservation of protein function. Our results imply that systematic characterization of residual protein expression or function in CRISPR-Cas9 generated KO lines is necessary for phenotype interpretation.