In vivo genome and base editing of a human PCSK9 knock-in hypercholesterolemic mouse model

A Carreras, etc
BMC Biology, 2019

Plasma concentration of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Inhibition of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9), which regulates cholesterol homeostasis, has recently emerged as an approach to reduce cholesterol levels. The development of humanized animal models is an important step to validate and study human drug targets, and use of genome and base editing has been proposed as a mean to target disease alleles.

To address the lack of validated models to test the safety and efficacy of techniques to target human PCSK9, we generated a liver-specific human PCSK9 knock-in mouse model (hPCSK9-KI). We showed that plasma concentrations of total cholesterol were higher in hPCSK9-KI than in wildtype mice and increased with age. Treatment with evolocumab, a monoclonal antibody that targets human PCSK9, reduced cholesterol levels in hPCSK9-KI but not in wildtype mice, showing that the hypercholesterolemic phenotype was driven by overexpression of human PCSK9. CRISPR-Cas9-mediated genome editing of human PCSK9 reduced plasma levels of human and not mouse PCSK9, and in parallel reduced plasma concentrations of total cholesterol; genome editing of mouse Pcsk9 did not reduce cholesterol levels. Base editing using a guide RNA that targeted human and mouse PCSK9 reduced plasma levels of human and mouse PCSK9 and total cholesterol. In our mouse model, base editing was more precise than genome editing, and no off-target editing nor chromosomal translocations were identified.

Here, we describe a humanized mouse model with liver-specific expression of human PCSK9 and a human-like hypercholesterolemia phenotype, and demonstrate that this mouse can be used to evaluate antibody and gene editing-based (genome and base editing) therapies to modulate the expression of human PCSK9 and reduce cholesterol levels. We predict that this mouse model will be used in the future to understand the efficacy and safety of novel therapeutic approaches for hypercholesterolemia.

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BMC Biology
doi: 10.1186/s12915-018-0624-2