CRISPR editing of the GLI1 first intron abrogates GLI1 expression and differentially alters lineage commitment

Yekaterina Galat, Haigang Gu, Mariana Perepitchka, Robert Taylor, Joon Won Yoon, Xenia A. Glukhova, Xiao Nan Li, Igor P. Beletsky, David O. Walterhouse, Vasiliy Galat*, Philip M. Iannaccone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


GLI1 is one of three GLI family transcription factors that mediate Sonic Hedgehog signaling, which plays a role in development and cell differentiation. GLI1 forms a positive feedback loop with GLI2 and likely with itself. To determine the impact of GLI1 and its intronic regulatory locus on this transcriptional loop and human stem cell differentiation, we deleted the region containing six GLI binding sites in the human GLI1 intron using CRISPR/Cas9 editing to produce H1 human embryonic stem cell (hESC) GLI1-edited clones. Editing out this intronic region, without removing the entire GLI1 gene, allowed us to study the effects of this highly complex region, which binds transcription factors in a variety of cells. The roles of GLI1 in human ESC differentiation were investigated by comparing RNA sequencing, quantitative-real time PCR (q-rtPCR), and functional assays. Editing this region resulted in GLI1 transcriptional knockdown, delayed neural commitment, and inhibition of endodermal and mesodermal differentiation during spontaneous and directed differentiation experiments. We found a delay in the onset of early osteogenic markers, a reduction in the hematopoietic potential to form granulocyte units, and a decrease in cancer-related gene expression. Furthermore, inhibition of GLI1 via antagonist GANT-61 had similar in vitro effects. These results indicate that the GLI1 intronic region is critical for the feedback loop and that GLI1 has lineage-specific effects on hESC differentiation. Our work is the first study to document the extent of GLI1 abrogation on early stages of human development and to show that GLI1 transcription can be altered in a therapeutically useful way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)564-580
Number of pages17
JournalStem Cells
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • CRISPR/Cas9
  • GANT-61
  • GLI1 first intron
  • GLI1 oncogene
  • Sonic Hedgehog pathway
  • embryonic stem cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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