Systematic Analysis of REBASE Identifies Numerous Type I Restriction-Modification Systems with Duplicated, Distinct hsdS Specificity Genes That Can Switch System Specificity by Recombination

John M Atack, Chengying Guo, Thomas Litfin, Long Yang, Patrick J Blackall, Yaoqi Zhou, Michael P Jennings
MSystems 2020 July 28, 5 (4)
N 6 -Adenine DNA methyltransferases associated with some Type I and Type III restriction-modification (R-M) systems are able to undergo phase variation, randomly switching expression ON or OFF by varying the length of locus-encoded simple sequence repeats (SSRs). This variation of methyltransferase expression results in genome-wide methylation differences and global changes in gene expression. These epigenetic regulatory systems are called phasevarions, phase-variable regulons, and are widespread in bacteria. A distinct switching system has also been described in Type I R-M systems, based on recombination-driven changes in hsdS genes, which dictate the DNA target site. In order to determine the prevalence of recombination-driven phasevarions, we generated a program called RecombinationRepeatSearch to interrogate REBASE and identify the presence and number of inverted repeats of hsdS downstream of Type I R-M loci. We report that 3.9% of Type I R-M systems have duplicated variable hsdS genes containing inverted repeats capable of phase variation. We report the presence of these systems in the major pathogens Enterococcus faecalis and Listeria monocytogenes , which could have important implications for pathogenesis and vaccine development. These data suggest that in addition to SSR-driven phasevarions, many bacteria have independently evolved phase-variable Type I R-M systems via recombination between multiple, variable hsdS genes. IMPORTANCE Many bacterial species contain DNA methyltransferases that have random on/off switching of expression. These systems, called phasevarions (phase-variable regulons), control the expression of multiple genes by global methylation changes. In every previously characterized phasevarion, genes involved in pathobiology, antibiotic resistance, and potential vaccine candidates are randomly varied in their expression, commensurate with methyltransferase switching. Our systematic study to determine the extent of phasevarions controlled by invertible Type I R-M systems will provide valuable information for understanding how bacteria regulate genes and is key to the study of physiology, virulence, and vaccine development; therefore, it is critical to identify and characterize phase-variable methyltransferases controlling phasevarions.

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