Silencing mammalian genes by targeted DNA (cytosine-5) methylation of selected CG sites in the genome would be a powerful technique to analyze epigenomic information and to study the roles of DNA methylation in physiological and pathological states. A promising approach of targeted DNA methylation is based on the ability of split fragments of a monomeric DNA methyltransferase (C5-MTase) to associate and form active enzyme. A few C5-MTases of different specificities have been shown to possess the ability of fragment complementation, but a demonstration of this phenomenon for a C5-MTase, which has CG specificity and thus can be targeted to methylate any CG site, has been lacking. The purpose of this study was to test whether the CG-specific prokaryotic C5-MTase M.SssI shows the phenomenon of fragment complementation.
We show that truncated inactive N-terminal fragments of M.SssI can assemble with truncated inactive C-terminal fragments to form active enzyme in vivo when produced in the same E. coli cell. Overlapping and non-overlapping fragments as well as fragments containing short appended foreign sequences had complementation capacity. In optimal combinations C-terminal fragments started between conserved motif VIII and the predicted target recognizing domain of M.SssI. DNA methyltransferase activity in crude extracts of cells with the best complementing fragment pairs was~4 per cent of the activity of cells producing the full length enzyme. Fusions of two N-terminal and two C-terminal fragments to 21.6kDa zinc finger domains only slightly reduced complementation ability of the fragments.
The CG-specific DNA methyltransferase M.SssI shows the phenomenon of fragment complementation in vivo in E. coli. Fusion of the split fragments to six unit zinc finger domains does not substantially interfere with the formation of active enzyme. These observations and the large number of complementing fragment combinations representing a wide range of MTase activity offer the possibility to develop M.SssI into a programmable DNA methyltransferase of high specificity.
Keywords: SssI DNA methyltransferase, DNA methylation, 5-methylcytosine, Protein fragment complementation, Protein fusion, Zinc finger