CRISPR/Cas9 has emerged as a powerful new tool to systematically probe gene function. In this study, we compare the performance of CRISPR to RNAi-based loss-of-function screens for the identification of cancer dependencies by performing parallel deep-coverage shRNA and CRISPR screens targeting 2722 genes across several cancer cell lines. CRISPR-based dropout screens identified more lethal genes compared to RNAi in all five cancer models, indicating that the identification of many cellular dependencies may require full gene inactivation, as induced by CRISPR but not RNAi. However, in two aneuploid cancer models we found that all genes within highly amplified regions, including non-expressed genes, scored as lethal by CRISPR, revealing an unanticipated class of false-positive hits in CRISPR-based screens. Using a CRISPR tiling array that encompassed all possible sgRNAs against the coding regions of 139 genes, we found that sgRNAs targeting essential domains provide the most robust dropout phenotypes, suggesting that this approach might be used to define the protein domains that are required for cancer dependence. Collectively, these findings demonstrate the utility of CRISPR-based screens in the identification of cancer-dependent genes, but also reveal the need to carefully control for false-positive results especially in chromosomally unstable cancer lines.
- Received February 8, 2016.
- Revision received May 13, 2016.
- Accepted May 27, 2016.
- Copyright ©2016, American Association for Cancer Research.