Blockade of MDM2 with inactive Cas9 prevents epithelial to mesenchymal transition in retinal pigment epithelial cells

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Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays an important role in the pathogenesis of proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR). We aimed to demonstrate the role of mouse double minute 2 (MDM2) in transforming growth factor-beta 2 (TGF-β2)-induced EMT in human retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPEs). Immunofluorescence was used to assess MDM2 expression in epiretinal membranes (ERMs) from patients with PVR. A single guide (sg)RNA targeting the second promoter of MDM2 was cloned into a mutant lentiviral Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (lentiCRISPR) v2 (D10A and H840A) vector for expressing nuclease dead Cas9 (dCas9)/MDM2-sgRNA in RPEs. In addition, MDM2-sgRNA was also cloned into a pLV-sgRNA-dCas9-Kruppel associated box (KRAB) vector for expressing dCas9 fused with a transcriptional repressor KRAB/MDM2-sgRNA. TGF-β2-induced expression of MDM2 and EMT biomarkers were assessed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (q-PCR), western blot, or immunofluorescence. Wound-healing and proliferation assays were used to evaluate the role of MDM2 in TGF-β2-induced responses in RPEs. As a result, we found that MDM2 was expressed obviously in ERMs, and that TGF-β2-induced expression of MDM2 and EMT biomarkers Fibronectin, N-cadherin and Vimentin in RPEs. Importantly, we discovered that the dCas9/MDM2-sgRNA blocked TGF-β2-induced expression of MDM2 and the EMT biomarkers without affecting their basal expression, whereas the dCas9-KRAB/MDM2-sgRNA suppressed basal MDM2 expression in RPEs. These cells could not be maintained continuously because their viability was greatly reduced. Next, we found that Nutlin-3, a small molecule blocking the interaction of MDM2 with p53, inhibited TGF-β2-induced expression of Fibronectin and N-cadherin but not Vimentin in RPEs, indicating that MDM2 functions in both p53-dependent and -independent pathways. Finally, our experimental data demonstrated that dCas9/MDM2-sgRNA suppressed TGF-β2-dependent cell proliferation and migration without disturbing the unstimulated basal activity. In conclusion, the CRISPR/dCas9 capability for blocking TGF-β2-induced expression of MDM2 and EMT biomarkers can be exploited for a therapeutic approach to PVR.

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This work was supported by NIH R01EY012509 (HL), Research to Prevent blindness (HL), NIH National Eye Institute core grant P30EYE003790, and China Postdoctoral Science Foundation 2017M622912 (BL).

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Correspondence to Hetian Lei.

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Liu, B., Song, J., Han, H. et al. Blockade of MDM2 with inactive Cas9 prevents epithelial to mesenchymal transition in retinal pigment epithelial cells. Lab Invest (2019) doi:10.1038/s41374-019-0307-9

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