September 22, 2019  |  

A survey of Type III restriction-modification systems reveals numerous, novel epigenetic regulators controlling phase-variable regulons; phasevarions.

Many bacteria utilize simple DNA sequence repeats as a mechanism to randomly switch genes on and off. This process is called phase variation. Several phase-variable N6-adenine DNA-methyltransferases from Type III restriction-modification systems have been reported in bacterial pathogens. Random switching of DNA methyltransferases changes the global DNA methylation pattern, leading to changes in gene expression. These epigenetic regulatory systems are called phasevarions – phase-variable regulons. The extent of these phase-variable genes in the bacterial kingdom is unknown. Here, we interrogated a database of restriction-modification systems, REBASE, by searching for all simple DNA sequence repeats in mod genes that encode Type III N6-adenine DNA-methyltransferases. We report that 17.4% of Type III mod genes (662/3805) contain simple sequence repeats. Of these, only one-fifth have been previously identified. The newly discovered examples are widely distributed and include many examples in opportunistic pathogens as well as in environmental species. In many cases, multiple phasevarions exist in one genome, with examples of up to 4 independent phasevarions in some species. We found several new types of phase-variable mod genes, including the first example of a phase-variable methyltransferase in pathogenic Escherichia coli. Phasevarions are a common epigenetic regulation contingency strategy used by both pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria.


July 19, 2019  |  

A random six-phase switch regulates pneumococcal virulence via global epigenetic changes.

Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) is the world’s foremost bacterial pathogen in both morbidity and mortality. Switching between phenotypic forms (or ‘phases’) that favour asymptomatic carriage or invasive disease was first reported in 1933. Here, we show that the underlying mechanism for such phase variation consists of genetic rearrangements in a Type I restriction-modification system (SpnD39III). The rearrangements generate six alternative specificities with distinct methylation patterns, as defined by single-molecule, real-time (SMRT) methylomics. The SpnD39III variants have distinct gene expression profiles. We demonstrate distinct virulence in experimental infection and in vivo selection for switching between SpnD39III variants. SpnD39III is ubiquitous in pneumococci, indicating an essential role in its biology. Future studies must recognize the potential for switching between these heretofore undetectable, differentiated pneumococcal subpopulations in vitro and in vivo. Similar systems exist in other bacterial genera, indicating the potential for broad exploitation of epigenetic gene regulation.


July 19, 2019  |  

Specificity of the ModA11, ModA12 and ModD1 epigenetic regulator N6-adenine DNA methyltransferases of Neisseria meningitidis.

Phase variation (random ON/OFF switching) of gene expression is a common feature of host-adapted pathogenic bacteria. Phase variably expressed N(6)-adenine DNA methyltransferases (Mod) alter global methylation patterns resulting in changes in gene expression. These systems constitute phase variable regulons called phasevarions. Neisseria meningitidis phasevarions regulate genes including virulence factors and vaccine candidates, and alter phenotypes including antibiotic resistance. The target site recognized by these Type III N(6)-adenine DNA methyltransferases is not known. Single molecule, real-time (SMRT) methylome analysis was used to identify the recognition site for three key N. meningitidis methyltransferases: ModA11 (exemplified by M.NmeMC58I) (5′-CGY M6A: G-3′), ModA12 (exemplified by M.Nme77I, M.Nme18I and M.Nme579II) (5′-AC M6A: CC-3′) and ModD1 (exemplified by M.Nme579I) (5′-CC M6A: GC-3′). Restriction inhibition assays and mutagenesis confirmed the SMRT methylome analysis. The ModA11 site is complex and atypical and is dependent on the type of pyrimidine at the central position, in combination with the bases flanking the core recognition sequence 5′-CGY M6A: G-3′. The observed efficiency of methylation in the modA11 strain (MC58) genome ranged from 4.6% at 5′-GCGC M6A: GG-3′ sites, to 100% at 5′-ACGT M6A: GG-3′ sites. Analysis of the distribution of modified sites in the respective genomes shows many cases of association with intergenic regions of genes with altered expression due to phasevarion switching. © The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.


July 19, 2019  |  

Single molecule-level detection and long read-based phasing of epigenetic variations in bacterial methylomes.

Beyond its role in host defense, bacterial DNA methylation also plays important roles in the regulation of gene expression, virulence and antibiotic resistance. Bacterial cells in a clonal population can generate epigenetic heterogeneity to increase population-level phenotypic plasticity. Single molecule, real-time (SMRT) sequencing enables the detection of N6-methyladenine and N4-methylcytosine, two major types of DNA modifications comprising the bacterial methylome. However, existing SMRT sequencing-based methods for studying bacterial methylomes rely on a population-level consensus that lacks the single-cell resolution required to observe epigenetic heterogeneity. Here, we present SMALR (single-molecule modification analysis of long reads), a novel framework for single molecule-level detection and phasing of DNA methylation. Using seven bacterial strains, we show that SMALR yields significantly improved resolution and reveals distinct types of epigenetic heterogeneity. SMALR is a powerful new tool that enables de novo detection of epigenetic heterogeneity and empowers investigation of its functions in bacterial populations.


July 19, 2019  |  

A biphasic epigenetic switch controls immunoevasion, virulence and niche adaptation in non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae.

Non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae contains an N(6)-adenine DNA-methyltransferase (ModA) that is subject to phase-variable expression (random ON/OFF switching). Five modA alleles, modA2, modA4, modA5, modA9 and modA10, account for over two-thirds of clinical otitis media isolates surveyed. Here, we use single molecule, real-time (SMRT) methylome analysis to identify the DNA-recognition motifs for all five of these modA alleles. Phase variation of these alleles regulates multiple proteins including vaccine candidates, and key virulence phenotypes such as antibiotic resistance (modA2, modA5, modA10), biofilm formation (modA2) and immunoevasion (modA4). Analyses of a modA2 strain in the chinchilla model of otitis media show a clear selection for ON switching of modA2 in the middle ear. Our results indicate that a biphasic epigenetic switch can control bacterial virulence, immunoevasion and niche adaptation in an animal model system.


July 19, 2019  |  

Phase variation of a Type IIG restriction-modification enzyme alters site-specific methylation patterns and gene expression in Campylobacter jejuni strain NCTC11168.

Phase-variable restriction-modification systems are a feature of a diverse range of bacterial species. Stochastic, reversible switches in expression of the methyltransferase produces variation in methylation of specific sequences. Phase-variable methylation by both Type I and Type III methyltransferases is associated with altered gene expression and phenotypic variation. One phase-variable gene of Campylobacter jejuni encodes a homologue of an unusual Type IIG restriction-modification system in which the endonuclease and methyltransferase are encoded by a single gene. Using both inhibition of restriction and PacBio-derived methylome analyses of mutants and phase-variants, the cj0031c allele in C. jejuni strain NCTC11168 was demonstrated to specifically methylate adenine in 5’CCCGA and 5’CCTGA sequences. Alterations in the levels of specific transcripts were detected using RNA-Seq in phase-variants and mutants of cj0031c but these changes did not correlate with observed differences in phenotypic behaviour. Alterations in restriction of phage growth were also associated with phase variation (PV) of cj0031c and correlated with presence of sites in the genomes of these phages. We conclude that PV of a Type IIG restriction-modification system causes changes in site-specific methylation patterns and gene expression patterns that may indirectly change adaptive traits.© The Author(s) 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.


July 19, 2019  |  

Comprehensive mutagenesis of the fimS promoter regulatory switch reveals novel regulation of type 1 pili in uropathogenic Escherichia coli.

Type 1 pili (T1P) are major virulence factors for uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC), which cause both acute and recurrent urinary tract infections. T1P expression therefore is of direct relevance for disease. T1P are phase variable (both piliated and nonpiliated bacteria exist in a clonal population) and are controlled by an invertible DNA switch (fimS), which contains the promoter for the fim operon encoding T1P. Inversion of fimS is stochastic but may be biased by environmental conditions and other signals that ultimately converge at fimS itself. Previous studies of fimS sequences important for T1P phase variation have focused on laboratory-adapted E. coli strains and have been limited in the number of mutations or by alteration of the fimS genomic context. We surmounted these limitations by using saturating genomic mutagenesis of fimS coupled with accurate sequencing to detect both mutations and phase status simultaneously. In addition to the sequences known to be important for biasing fimS inversion, our method also identifies a previously unknown pair of 5′ UTR inverted repeats that act by altering the relative fimA levels to control phase variation. Thus we have uncovered an additional layer of T1P regulation potentially impacting virulence and the coordinate expression of multiple pilus systems.


July 19, 2019  |  

Phasevarions of bacterial pathogens: Methylomics sheds new light on old enemies.

A wide variety of bacterial pathogens express phase-variable DNA methyltransferases that control expression of multiple genes via epigenetic mechanisms. These randomly switching regulons – phasevarions – regulate genes involved in pathogenesis, host adaptation, and antibiotic resistance. Individual phase-variable genes can be identified in silico as they contain easily recognized features such as simple sequence repeats (SSRs) or inverted repeats (IRs) that mediate the random switching of expression. Conversely, phasevarion-controlled genes do not contain any easily identifiable features. The study of DNA methyltransferase specificity using Single-Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) sequencing and methylome analysis has rapidly advanced the analysis of phasevarions by allowing methylomics to be combined with whole-transcriptome/proteome analysis to comprehensively characterize these systems in a number of important bacterial pathogens. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


July 7, 2019  |  

Phase-variable methylation and epigenetic regulation by type I restriction-modification systems.

Epigenetic modifications in bacteria, such as DNA methylation, have been shown to affect gene regulation, thereby generating cells that are isogenic but with distinctly different phenotypes. Restriction-modification (RM) systems contain prototypic methylases that are responsible for much of bacterial DNA methylation. This review focuses on a distinctive group of type I RM loci that , through phase variation, can modify their methylation target specificity and can thereby switch bacteria between alternative patterns of DNA methylation. Phase variation occurs at the level of the target recognition domains of the hsdS (specificity) gene via reversible recombination processes acting upon multiple hsdS alleles. We describe the global distribution of such loci throughout the prokaryotic kingdom and highlight the differences in loci structure across the various bacterial species. Although RM systems are often considered simply as an evolutionary response to bacteriophages, these multi-hsdS type I systems have also shown the capacity to change bacterial phenotypes. The ability of these RM systems to allow bacteria to reversibly switch between different physiological states, combined with the existence of such loci across many species of medical and industrial importance, highlights the potential of phase-variable DNA methylation to act as a global regulatory mechanism in bacteria.© FEMS 2017.


July 7, 2019  |  

Bacterial genetics: SMRT-seq reveals an epigenetic switch.

Streptococcus pneumoniae uses genetic diversification as a strategy to achieve phenotypic plasticity. For example, DNA inversion of the hsdS genes of type I restriction-modification (R-M) systems determines whether S. pneumoniae forms opaque or transparent colonies, which have different colonization and virulence characteristics. Zhang and colleagues now use single-molecule, real-time sequencing (SMRT-seq) to show the allelic variation of hsdS that results from site-specific recombination forms part of an epigenetic switch.


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