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1.  The CcrM DNA methyltransferase is widespread in the alpha subdivision of proteobacteria, and its essential functions are conserved in Rhizobium meliloti and Caulobacter crescentus. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1997;179(18):5869-5877.
The Caulobacter crescentus DNA methyltransferase CcrM (M.CcrMI) methylates the adenine residue in the sequence GANTC. The CcrM DNA methyltransferase is essential for viability, but it does not appear to be part of a DNA restriction-modification system. CcrM homologs are widespread in the alpha subdivision of gram-negative bacteria. We have amplified and sequenced a 258-bp region of the cerM gene from several of these bacteria, including Rhizobium meliloti, Brucella abortus, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, and Rhodobacter capsulatus. Alignment of the deduced amino acid sequences revealed that these proteins constitute a highly conserved DNA methyltransferase family. Isolation of the full-length ccrM genes from the aquatic bacterium C. crescentus, the soil bacterium R. meliloti, and the intracellular pathogen B. abortus showed that this sequence conservation extends over the entire protein. In at least two alpha subdivision bacteria, R. meliloti and C. crescentus, CcrM-mediated methylation has important cellular functions. In both organisms, CcrM is essential for viability. Overexpression of CcrM in either bacterium results in defects in cell division and cell morphology and in the initiation of DNA replication. Finally, the C. crescentus and R. meliloti ccrM genes are functionally interchangeable, as the complemented strains are viable and the chromosomes are methylated. Thus, in both R. meliloti and C. crescentus, CcrM methylation is an integral component of the cell cycle. We speculate that CcrM-mediated DNA methylation is likely to have similar roles among alpha subdivision bacteria.
PMCID: PMC179479  PMID: 9294447
2.  YhdJ, a Nonessential CcrM-Like DNA Methyltransferase of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;189(11):4325-4327.
The Caulobacter crescentus DNA adenine methyltransferase CcrM and its homologs in the α-Proteobacteria are essential for viability. CcrM is 34% identical to the yhdJ gene products of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica. This study provides evidence that the E. coli yhdJ gene encodes a DNA adenine methyltransferase. In contrast to an earlier report, however, we show that yhdJ is not an essential gene in either E. coli or S. enterica.
PMCID: PMC1913422  PMID: 17400740
3.  The Brucella abortus CcrM DNA Methyltransferase Is Essential for Viability, and Its Overexpression Attenuates Intracellular Replication in Murine Macrophages 
Journal of Bacteriology  2000;182(12):3482-3489.
The CcrM DNA methyltransferase of the α-proteobacteria catalyzes the methylation of the adenine in the sequence GAnTC. Like Dam in the enterobacteria, CcrM plays a regulatory role in Caulobacter crescentus and Rhizobium meliloti. CcrM is essential for viability in both of these organisms, and we show here that it is also essential in Brucella abortus. Further, increased copy number of the ccrM gene results in striking changes in B. abortus morphology, DNA replication, and growth in murine macrophages. We generated strains that carry ccrM either on a low-copy-number plasmid (strain GR131) or on a moderate-copy-number plasmid (strain GR132). Strain GR131 has wild-type morphology and chromosome number, as assessed by flow cytometry. In contrast, strain GR132 has abnormal branched morphology, suggesting aberrant cell division, and increased chromosome number. Although these strains exhibit different morphologies and DNA content, the replication of both strains in macrophages is attenuated. These data imply that the reduction in survival in host cells is not due solely to a cell division defect but is due to additional functions of CcrM. Because CcrM is essential in B. abortus and increased ccrM copy number attenuates survival in host cells, we propose that CcrM is an appropriate target for new antibiotics.
PMCID: PMC101938  PMID: 10852881
4.  The CcrM DNA Methyltransferase of Agrobacterium tumefaciens Is Essential, and Its Activity Is Cell Cycle Regulated 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(10):3065-3075.
DNA methylation is now recognized as a regulator of multiple bacterial cellular processes. CcrM is a DNA adenine methyltransferase found in the alpha subdivision of the proteobacteria. Like the Dam enzyme, which is found primarily in Escherichia coli and other gamma proteobacteria, it does not appear to be part of a DNA restriction-modification system. The CcrM homolog of Agrobacterium tumefaciens was found to be essential for viability. Overexpression of CcrM is associated with significant abnormalities of cell morphology and DNA ploidy. Mapping of the transcriptional start site revealed a conserved binding motif for the global response regulator CtrA at the −35 position; this motif was footprinted by purified Caulobacter crescentus CtrA protein in its phosphorylated state. We have succeeded in isolating synchronized populations of Agrobacterium cells and analyzing their progression through the cell cycle. We demonstrate that DNA replication and cell division can be followed in an orderly manner and that flagellin expression is cyclic, consistent with our observation that motility varies during the cell cycle. Using these synchronized populations, we show that CcrM methylation of the chromosome is restricted to the late S phase of the cell cycle. Thus, within the alpha subdivision, there is a conserved cell cycle dependence and regulatory mechanism controlling ccrM expression.
PMCID: PMC95206  PMID: 11325934
5.  DNA Binding of the Cell Cycle Transcriptional Regulator GcrA Depends on N6-Adenosine Methylation in Caulobacter crescentus and Other Alphaproteobacteria 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(5):e1003541.
Several regulators are involved in the control of cell cycle progression in the bacterial model system Caulobacter crescentus, which divides asymmetrically into a vegetative G1-phase (swarmer) cell and a replicative S-phase (stalked) cell. Here we report a novel functional interaction between the enigmatic cell cycle regulator GcrA and the N6-adenosine methyltransferase CcrM, both highly conserved proteins among Alphaproteobacteria, that are activated early and at the end of S-phase, respectively. As no direct biochemical and regulatory relationship between GcrA and CcrM were known, we used a combination of ChIP (chromatin-immunoprecipitation), biochemical and biophysical experimentation, and genetics to show that GcrA is a dimeric DNA–binding protein that preferentially targets promoters harbouring CcrM methylation sites. After tracing CcrM-dependent N6-methyl-adenosine promoter marks at a genome-wide scale, we show that these marks recruit GcrA in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, we found that, in the presence of a methylated target, GcrA recruits the RNA polymerase to the promoter, consistent with its role in transcriptional activation. Since methylation-dependent DNA binding is also observed with GcrA orthologs from other Alphaproteobacteria, we conclude that GcrA is the founding member of a new and conserved class of transcriptional regulators that function as molecular effectors of a methylation-dependent (non-heritable) epigenetic switch that regulates gene expression during the cell cycle.
Author Summary
Methylation of genomic DNA at a specific regulatory site can impact a myriad of processes in eukaryotic cells. In bacteria, methylation at the N6 position of adenosine (m6A) is known to mediate a non-adaptive immunity response to protect cells from foreign DNA. While m6A marks are not known to govern expression of cell cycle genes in Gammaproteobacteria, cell cycle transcription in the model alphaproteobacterium Caulobacter crescentus requires the m6A methyltransferase CcrM that introduces m6A marks at GAnTC sequences and the enigmatic factor GcrA. Investigating if a functional and biochemical relationship exists between CcrM and GcrA, we found that CcrM-dependent m6A marks recruit GcrA to the promoters of cell cycle genes in vitro and in vivo and is required for efficient transcription. GcrA interacts with RNA polymerase, explaining how cell cycle transcription is affected. Importantly, m6A-dependent binding is also seen in GcrA orthologs, indicating that this transcriptional regulatory mechanism by CcrM and GcrA is conserved in Alphaproteobacteria.
PMCID: PMC3667746  PMID: 23737758
6.  The functions of DNA methylation by CcrM in Caulobacter crescentus: a global approach 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(6):3720-3735.
DNA methylation is involved in a diversity of processes in bacteria, including maintenance of genome integrity and regulation of gene expression. Here, using Caulobacter crescentus as a model, we exploit genome-wide experimental methods to uncover the functions of CcrM, a DNA methyltransferase conserved in most Alphaproteobacteria. Using single molecule sequencing, we provide evidence that most CcrM target motifs (GANTC) switch from a fully methylated to a hemi-methylated state when they are replicated, and back to a fully methylated state at the onset of cell division. We show that DNA methylation by CcrM is not required for the control of the initiation of chromosome replication or for DNA mismatch repair. By contrast, our transcriptome analysis shows that >10% of the genes are misexpressed in cells lacking or constitutively over-expressing CcrM. Strikingly, GANTC methylation is needed for the efficient transcription of dozens of genes that are essential for cell cycle progression, in particular for DNA metabolism and cell division. Many of them are controlled by promoters methylated by CcrM and co-regulated by other global cell cycle regulators, demonstrating an extensive cross talk between DNA methylation and the complex regulatory network that controls the cell cycle of C. crescentus and, presumably, of many other Alphaproteobacteria.
PMCID: PMC3973325  PMID: 24398711
7.  Coordinate cell cycle control of a Caulobacter DNA methyltransferase and the flagellar genetic hierarchy. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1995;177(7):1662-1669.
The expression of the Caulobacter ccrM gene and the activity of its product, the M.Ccr II DNA methyltransferase, are limited to a discrete portion of the cell cycle (G. Zweiger, G. Marczynski, and L. Shapiro, J. Mol. Biol. 235:472-485, 1994). Temporal control of DNA methylation has been shown to be critical for normal development in the dimorphic Caulobacter life cycle. To understand the mechanism by which ccrM expression is regulated during the cell cycle, we have identified and characterized the ccrM promoter region. We have found that it belongs to an unusual promoter family used by several Caulobacter class II flagellar genes. The expression of these class II genes initiates assembly of the flagellum just prior to activation of the ccrM promoter in the predivisional cell. Mutational analysis of two M.Ccr II methylation sites located 3' to the ccrM promoter suggests that methylation might influence the temporally controlled inactivation of ccrM transcription. An additional parallel between the ccrM and class II flagellar promoters is that their transcription responds to a cell cycle DNA replication checkpoint. We propose that a common regulatory system coordinates the expression of functionally diverse genes during the Caulobacter cell cycle.
PMCID: PMC176791  PMID: 7896686
8.  Genomic Adaptations to the Loss of a Conserved Bacterial DNA Methyltransferase 
mBio  2015;6(4):e00952-15.
CcrM is an orphan DNA methyltransferase nearly universally conserved in a vast group of Alphaproteobacteria. In Caulobacter crescentus, it controls the expression of key genes involved in the regulation of the cell cycle and cell division. Here, we demonstrate, using an experimental evolution approach, that C. crescentus can significantly compensate, through easily accessible genetic changes like point mutations, the severe loss in fitness due to the absence of CcrM, quickly improving its growth rate and cell morphology in rich medium. By analyzing the compensatory mutations genome-wide in 12 clones sampled from independent ΔccrM populations evolved for ~300 generations, we demonstrated that each of the twelve clones carried at least one mutation that potentially stimulated ftsZ expression, suggesting that the low intracellular levels of FtsZ are the major burden of ΔccrM mutants. In addition, we demonstrate that the phosphoenolpyruvate-carbohydrate phosphotransfer system (PTS) actually modulates ftsZ and mipZ transcription, uncovering a previously unsuspected link between metabolic regulation and cell division in Alphaproteobacteria. We present evidence that point mutations found in genes encoding proteins of the PTS provide the strongest fitness advantage to ΔccrM cells cultivated in rich medium despite being disadvantageous in minimal medium. This environmental sign epistasis might prevent such mutations from getting fixed under changing natural conditions, adding a plausible explanation for the broad conservation of CcrM.
In bacteria, DNA methylation has a variety of functions, including the control of DNA replication and/or gene expression. The cell cycle-regulated DNA methyltransferase CcrM modulates the transcription of many genes and is critical for fitness in Caulobacter crescentus. Here, we used an original experimental evolution approach to determine which of its many targets make CcrM so important physiologically. We show that populations lacking CcrM evolve quickly, accumulating an excess of mutations affecting, directly or indirectly, the expression of the ftsZ cell division gene. This finding suggests that the most critical function of CcrM in C. crescentus is to promote cell division by enhancing FtsZ intracellular levels. During this work, we also discovered an unexpected link between metabolic regulation and cell division that might extend to other Alphaproteobacteria.
PMCID: PMC4551980  PMID: 26220966
9.  DNA methylation by CcrM activates the transcription of two genes required for the division of Caulobacter crescentus 
Molecular Microbiology  2013;88(1):203-218.
DNA methylation regulates many processes, including gene expression, by superimposing secondary information on DNA sequences. The conserved CcrM enzyme, which methylates adenines in GANTC sequences, is essential to the viability of several Alphaproteobacteria. In this study, we find that Caulobacter crescentus cells lacking the CcrM enzyme accumulate low levels of the two conserved FtsZ and MipZ proteins, leading to a severe defect in cell division. This defect can be compensated by the expression of the ftsZ gene from an inducible promoter or by spontaneous suppressor mutations that promote FtsZ accumulation. We show that CcrM promotes the transcription of the ftsZ and mipZ genes and that the ftsZ and mipZ promoter regions contain a conserved CGACTC motif that is critical to their activities and to their regulation by CcrM. In addition, our results suggest that the ftsZ promoter has the lowest activity when the CGACTC motif is non-methylated, an intermediate activity when it is hemi-methylated and the highest activity when it is fully methylated. The regulation of ftsZ expression by DNA methylation may explain why CcrM is essential in a subset of Alphaproteobacteria.
PMCID: PMC3708114  PMID: 23480529
10.  N6-methyl-adenine: an epigenetic signal for DNA-protein interactions 
Nature Reviews. Microbiology  2006;4(3):183-192.
N6-methyl-adenine is found in the genomes of bacteria, archaea, protists, and fungi. Most bacterial DNA adenine methyltransferases are part of restriction-modification systems. In addition, certain groups of Proteobacteria harbor solitary DNA adenine methyltransferases that provide signals for DNA-protein interactions. In γ-Proteobacteria, Dam methylation regulates chromosome replication, nucleoid segregation, DNA repair, transposition of insertion elements, and transcription of specific genes. In Salmonella, Haemophilus, Yersinia, Vibrio, and pathogenic E. coli, Dam methylation is required for virulence. In α-Proteobacteria, CcrM methylation regulates the cell cycle in Caulobacter, Rhizobium, and Agrobacterium, and plays a role in Brucella abortus infection.
PMCID: PMC2755769  PMID: 16489347
Adenine; analogs & derivatives; metabolism; physiology; Bacteria; genetics; metabolism; pathogenicity; Bacterial Proteins; metabolism; Cell Cycle; Chromosomes, Bacterial; metabolism; DNA Methylation; DNA Repair; DNA, Bacterial; genetics; metabolism; Epigenesis, Genetic; Genes, Bacterial; genetics; Mutagenesis, Insertional; Proteobacteria; genetics; physiology; Site-Specific DNA-Methyltransferase (Adenine-Specific); genetics; metabolism; Transcription, Genetic
11.  Computational and Genetic Reduction of a Cell Cycle to Its Simplest, Primordial Components 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(12):e1001749.
Mathematical modelling and genetics in the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus identified redundancy in asymmetric cell cycle regulation through the dispensability of key transcription factor GcrA and methyltransferase CcrM, which together form a genetic module.
What are the minimal requirements to sustain an asymmetric cell cycle? Here we use mathematical modelling and forward genetics to reduce an asymmetric cell cycle to its simplest, primordial components. In the Alphaproteobacterium Caulobacter crescentus, cell cycle progression is believed to be controlled by a cyclical genetic circuit comprising four essential master regulators. Unexpectedly, our in silico modelling predicted that one of these regulators, GcrA, is in fact dispensable. We confirmed this experimentally, finding that ΔgcrA cells are viable, but slow-growing and elongated, with the latter mostly due to an insufficiency of a key cell division protein. Furthermore, suppressor analysis showed that another cell cycle regulator, the methyltransferase CcrM, is similarly dispensable with simultaneous gcrA/ccrM disruption ameliorating the cytokinetic and growth defect of ΔgcrA cells. Within the Alphaproteobacteria, gcrA and ccrM are consistently present or absent together, rather than either gene being present alone, suggesting that gcrA/ccrM constitutes an independent, dispensable genetic module. Together our approaches unveil the essential elements of a primordial asymmetric cell cycle that should help illuminate more complex cell cycles.
Author Summary
Cell cycle regulation is remarkably complex and the fundamental principles difficult to understand, even in simple cells. The bacterium Caulobacter crescentus is a popular model organism to study cell cycle regulation due to the two different daughter cells resulting from cell division: a mobile “swarmer” cell and a “stalked” cell that adheres to surfaces. Here, we use mathematical modelling and genetic experiments to identify the core components of the asymmetric cell cycle of these bacteria. Using our mathematical model we predicted and confirmed experimentally that the transcription factor and cell cycle regulator, GcrA, hitherto thought to be essential, is in fact dispensable. We also identified another master regulator, the methyltransferase, CcrM as dispensable. Furthermore, simultaneous deletion of both GcrA and CcrM removes the severe cell division defects observed on either single deletion, returning cells to near wild-type morphology. We found that GcrA and CcrM constitute an independent, dispensable, genetic module that regulates transcription of cytokinetic proteins during the cell cycle. Phylogenetically, the module is conserved in Alphaproteobacteria, the class of Caulobacter, but is not present in the tree root of the class, suggesting that we have identified the primordial core of the asymmetric cell cycle regulatory circuit in the Alphaproteobacteria.
PMCID: PMC3885167  PMID: 24415923
12.  Epigenetic Gene Regulation in the Bacterial World 
Like many eukaryotes, bacteria make widespread use of postreplicative DNA methylation for the epigenetic control of DNA-protein interactions. Unlike eukaryotes, however, bacteria use DNA adenine methylation (rather than DNA cytosine methylation) as an epigenetic signal. DNA adenine methylation plays roles in the virulence of diverse pathogens of humans and livestock animals, including pathogenic Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Vibrio, Yersinia, Haemophilus, and Brucella. In Alphaproteobacteria, methylation of adenine at GANTC sites by the CcrM methylase regulates the cell cycle and couples gene transcription to DNA replication. In Gammaproteobacteria, adenine methylation at GATC sites by the Dam methylase provides signals for DNA replication, chromosome segregation, mismatch repair, packaging of bacteriophage genomes, transposase activity, and regulation of gene expression. Transcriptional repression by Dam methylation appears to be more common than transcriptional activation. Certain promoters are active only during the hemimethylation interval that follows DNA replication; repression is restored when the newly synthesized DNA strand is methylated. In the E. coli genome, however, methylation of specific GATC sites can be blocked by cognate DNA binding proteins. Blockage of GATC methylation beyond cell division permits transmission of DNA methylation patterns to daughter cells and can give rise to distinct epigenetic states, each propagated by a positive feedback loop. Switching between alternative DNA methylation patterns can split clonal bacterial populations into epigenetic lineages in a manner reminiscent of eukaryotic cell differentiation. Inheritance of self-propagating DNA methylation patterns governs phase variation in the E. coli pap operon, the agn43 gene, and other loci encoding virulence-related cell surface functions.
PMCID: PMC1594586  PMID: 16959970
13.  Molecular Characterization of a Novel Temperate Sinorhizobium Bacteriophage, ФLM21, Encoding DNA Methyltransferase with CcrM-Like Specificity 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(22):13111-13124.
ΦLM21 is a temperate phage isolated from Sinorhizobium sp. strain LM21 (Alphaproteobacteria). Genomic analysis and electron microscopy suggested that ΦLM21 is a member of the family Siphoviridae. The phage has an isometric head and a long noncontractile tail. The genome of ΦLM21 has 50,827 bp of linear double-stranded DNA encoding 72 putative proteins, including proteins responsible for the assembly of the phage particles, DNA packaging, transcription, replication, and lysis. Virion proteins were characterized using mass spectrometry, leading to the identification of the major capsid and tail components, tape measure, and a putative portal protein. We have confirmed the activity of two gene products, a lytic enzyme (a putative chitinase) and a DNA methyltransferase, sharing sequence specificity with the cell cycle-regulating methyltransferase (CcrM) of the bacterial host. Interestingly, the genome of Sinorhizobium phage ΦLM21 shows very limited similarity to other known phage genome sequences and is thus considered unique.
IMPORTANCE Prophages are known to play an important role in the genomic diversification of bacteria via horizontal gene transfer. The influence of prophages on pathogenic bacteria is very well documented. However, our knowledge of the overall impact of prophages on the survival of their lysogenic, nonpathogenic bacterial hosts is still limited. In particular, information on prophages of the agronomically important Sinorhizobium species is scarce. In this study, we describe the isolation and molecular characterization of a novel temperate bacteriophage, ΦLM21, of Sinorhizobium sp. LM21. Since we have not found any similar sequences, we propose that this bacteriophage is a novel species. We conducted a functional analysis of selected proteins. We have demonstrated that the phage DNA methyltransferase has the same sequence specificity as the cell cycle-regulating methyltransferase CcrM of its host. We point out that this phenomenon of mimicking the host regulatory mechanisms by viruses is quite common in bacteriophages.
PMCID: PMC4249059  PMID: 25187538
14.  The CtrA Response Regulator Mediates Temporal Control of Gene Expression during the Caulobacter Cell Cycle 
Journal of Bacteriology  1999;181(8):2430-2439.
In its role as a global response regulator, CtrA controls the transcription of a diverse group of genes at different times in the Caulobacter crescentus cell cycle. To understand the differential regulation of CtrA-controlled genes, we compared the expression of two of these genes, the fliQ flagellar gene and the ccrM DNA methyltransferase gene. Despite their similar promoter architecture, these genes are transcribed at different times in the cell cycle. PfliQ is activated earlier than PccrM. Phosphorylated CtrA (CtrA∼P) bound to the CtrA recognition sequence in both promoters but had a 10- to 20-fold greater affinity for PfliQ. This difference in affinity correlates with temporal changes in the cellular levels of CtrA. Disrupting a unique inverted repeat element in PccrM significantly reduced promoter activity but not the timing of transcription initiation, suggesting that the inverted repeat does not play a major role in the temporal control of ccrM expression. Our data indicate that differences in the affinity of CtrA∼P for PfliQ and PccrM regulate, in part, the temporal expression of these genes. However, the timing of fliQ transcription but not of ccrM transcription was altered in cells expressing a stable CtrA derivative, indicating that changes in CtrA∼P levels alone cannot govern the cell cycle transcription of these genes. We propose that changes in the cellular concentration of CtrA∼P and its interaction with accessory proteins influence the temporal expression of fliQ, ccrM, and other key cell cycle genes and ultimately the regulation of the cell cycle.
PMCID: PMC93667  PMID: 10198005
15.  The diversity and evolution of cell cycle regulation in alpha-proteobacteria: a comparative genomic analysis 
BMC Systems Biology  2010;4:52.
In the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus, CtrA coordinates DNA replication, cell division, and polar morphogenesis and is considered the cell cycle master regulator. CtrA activity varies during cell cycle progression and is modulated by phosphorylation, proteolysis and transcriptional control. In a phosphorylated state, CtrA binds specific DNA sequences, regulates the expression of genes involved in cell cycle progression and silences the origin of replication. Although the circuitry regulating CtrA is known in molecular detail in Caulobacter, its conservation and functionality in the other alpha-proteobacteria are still poorly understood.
Orthologs of Caulobacter factors involved in the regulation of CtrA were systematically scanned in genomes of alpha-proteobacteria. In particular, orthologous genes of the divL-cckA-chpT-ctrA phosphorelay, the divJ-pleC-divK two-component system, the cpdR-rcdA-clpPX proteolysis system, the methyltransferase ccrM and transcriptional regulators dnaA and gcrA were identified in representative genomes of alpha-proteobacteria. CtrA, DnaA and GcrA binding sites and CcrM putative methylation sites were predicted in promoter regions of all these factors and functions controlled by CtrA in all alphas were predicted.
The regulatory cell cycle architecture was identified in all representative alpha-proteobacteria, revealing a high diversification of circuits but also a conservation of logical features. An evolutionary model was proposed where ancient alphas already possessed all modules found in Caulobacter arranged in a variety of connections. Two schemes appeared to evolve: a complex circuit in Caulobacterales and Rhizobiales and a simpler one found in Rhodobacterales.
PMCID: PMC2877005  PMID: 20426835
16.  The Caulobacter crescentus DNA-(adenine-N6)-methyltransferase CcrM methylates DNA in a distributive manner 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(4):1708-1716.
The specificity and processivity of DNA methyltransferases have important implications regarding their biological functions. We have investigated the sequence specificity of CcrM and show here that the enzyme has a high specificity for GANTC sites, with only minor preferences at the central position. It slightly prefers hemimethylated DNA, which represents the physiological substrate. In a previous work, CcrM was reported to be highly processive [Berdis et al. (1998) Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 95: 2874–2879]. However upon review of this work, we identified a technical error in the setup of a crucial experiment in this publication, which prohibits making any statement about the processivity of CcrM. In this study, we performed a series of in vitro experiments to study CcrM processivity. We show that it distributively methylates six target sites on the pUC19 plasmid as well as two target sites located on a 129-mer DNA fragment both in unmethylated and hemimethylated state. Reaction quenching experiments confirmed the lack of processivity. We conclude that the original statement that CcrM is processive is no longer valid.
PMCID: PMC3287173  PMID: 21926159
17.  Evidence for Horizontal Transfer of the EcoT38I Restriction- Modification Gene to Chromosomal DNA by the P2 Phage and Diversity of Defective P2 Prophages in Escherichia coli TH38 Strains 
Journal of Bacteriology  2003;185(7):2296-2305.
A DNA fragment carrying the genes coding for a novel EcoT38I restriction endonuclease (R.EcoT38I) and EcoT38I methyltransferase (M.EcoT38I), which recognize G(A/G)GC(C/T)C, was cloned from the chromosomal DNA of Escherichia coli TH38. The endonuclease and methyltransferase genes were in a head-to-head orientation and were separated by a 330-nucleotide intergenic region. A third gene, the C.EcoT38I gene, was found in the intergenic region, partially overlapping the R.EcoT38I gene. The gene product, C.EcoT38I, acted as both a positive regulator of R.EcoT38I gene expression and a negative regulator of M.EcoT38I gene expression. M.EcoT38I purified from recombinant E. coli cells was shown to be a monomeric protein and to methylate the inner cytosines in the recognition sequence. R.EcoT38I was purified from E. coli HB101 expressing M.EcoT38I and formed a homodimer. The EcoT38I restriction (R)-modification (M) system (R-M system) was found to be inserted between the A and Q genes of defective bacteriophage P2, which was lysogenized in the chromosome at locI, one of the P2 phage attachment sites observed in both E. coli K-12 MG1655 and TH38 chromosomal DNAs. Ten strains of E. coli TH38 were examined for the presence of the EcoT38I R-M gene on the P2 prophage. Conventional PCR analysis and assaying of R activity demonstrated that all strains carried a single copy of the EcoT38I R-M gene and expressed R activity but that diversity of excision in the ogr, D, H, I, and J genes in the defective P2 prophage had arisen.
PMCID: PMC151499  PMID: 12644501
18.  Novel non-specific DNA adenine methyltransferases 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;40(5):2119-2130.
The mom gene of bacteriophage Mu encodes an enzyme that converts adenine to N6-(1-acetamido)-adenine in the phage DNA and thereby protects the viral genome from cleavage by a wide variety of restriction endonucleases. Mu-like prophage sequences present in Haemophilus influenzae Rd (FluMu), Neisseria meningitidis type A strain Z2491 (Pnme1) and H. influenzae biotype aegyptius ATCC 11116 do not possess a Mom-encoding gene. Instead, at the position occupied by mom in Mu they carry an unrelated gene that encodes a protein with homology to DNA adenine N6-methyltransferases (hin1523, nma1821, hia5, respectively). Products of the hin1523, hia5 and nma1821 genes modify adenine residues to N6-methyladenine, both in vitro and in vivo. All of these enzymes catalyzed extensive DNA methylation; most notably the Hia5 protein caused the methylation of 61% of the adenines in λ DNA. Kinetic analysis of oligonucleotide methylation suggests that all adenine residues in DNA, with the possible exception of poly(A)-tracts, constitute substrates for the Hia5 and Hin1523 enzymes. Their potential ‘sequence specificity’ could be summarized as AB or BA (where B = C, G or T). Plasmid DNA isolated from Escherichia coli cells overexpressing these novel DNA methyltransferases was resistant to cleavage by many restriction enzymes sensitive to adenine methylation.
PMCID: PMC3299994  PMID: 22102579
19.  A Quantitative Study of the Division Cycle of Caulobacter crescentus Stalked Cells 
Progression of a cell through the division cycle is tightly controlled at different steps to ensure the integrity of genome replication and partitioning to daughter cells. From published experimental evidence, we propose a molecular mechanism for control of the cell division cycle in Caulobacter crescentus. The mechanism, which is based on the synthesis and degradation of three “master regulator” proteins (CtrA, GcrA, and DnaA), is converted into a quantitative model, in order to study the temporal dynamics of these and other cell cycle proteins. The model accounts for important details of the physiology, biochemistry, and genetics of cell cycle control in stalked C. crescentus cell. It reproduces protein time courses in wild-type cells, mimics correctly the phenotypes of many mutant strains, and predicts the phenotypes of currently uncharacterized mutants. Since many of the proteins involved in regulating the cell cycle of C. crescentus are conserved among many genera of α-proteobacteria, the proposed mechanism may be applicable to other species of importance in agriculture and medicine.
Author Summary
The cell cycle is the sequence of events by which a growing cell replicates all its components and divides them more or less evenly between two daughter cells. The timing and spatial organization of these events are controlled by gene–protein interaction networks of great complexity. A challenge for computational biology is to build realistic, accurate, predictive mathematical models of these control systems in a variety of organisms, both eukaryotes and prokaryotes. To this end, we present a model of a portion of the molecular network controlling DNA synthesis, cell cycle–related gene expression, DNA methylation, and cell division in stalked cells of the α-proteobacterium Caulobacter crescentus. The model is formulated in terms of nonlinear ordinary differential equations for the major cell cycle regulatory proteins in Caulobacter: CtrA, GcrA, DnaA, CcrM, and DivK. Kinetic rate constants are estimated, and the model is tested against available experimental observations on wild-type and mutant cells. The model is viewed as a starting point for more comprehensive models of the future that will account, in addition, for the spatial asymmetry of Caulobacter reproduction (swarmer cells as well as stalked cells), the correlation of cell growth and division, and cell cycle checkpoints.
PMCID: PMC2217572  PMID: 18225942
20.  Genetic Organization and Molecular Analysis of the EcoVIII Restriction-Modification System of Escherichia coli E1585-68 and Its Comparison with Isospecific Homologs 
The EcoVIII restriction-modification (R-M) system is carried by the Escherichia coli E1585-68 natural plasmid pEC156 (4,312 bp). The two genes were cloned and characterized. The G+C content of the EcoVIII R-M system is 36.1%, which is significantly lower than the average G+C content of either plasmid pEC156 (43.6%) or E. coli genomic DNA (50.8%). The difference suggests that there is a possibility that the EcoVIII R-M system was recently acquired by the genome. The 921-bp EcoVIII endonuclease (R · EcoVIII) gene (ecoVIIIR) encodes a 307-amino-acid protein with an Mr of 35,554. The convergently oriented EcoVIII methyltransferase (M · EcoVIII) gene (ecoVIIIM) consists of 912 bp that code for a 304-amino-acid protein with an Mr of 33,930. The exact positions of the start codon AUG were determined by protein microsequencing. Both enzymes recognize the specific palindromic sequence 5′-AAGCTT-3′. Preparations of EcoVIII R-M enzymes purified to homogeneity were characterized. R · EcoVIII acts as a dimer and cleaves a specific sequence between two adenine residues, leaving 4-nucleotide 5′ protruding ends. M · EcoVIII functions as a monomer and modifies the first adenine residue at the 5′ end of the specific sequence to N6-methyladenine. These enzymes are thus functionally identical to the corresponding enzymes of the HindIII (Haemophilus influenzae Rd) and LlaCI (Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris W15) R-M systems. This finding is reflected by the levels of homology of M · EcoVIII with M · HindIII and M · LlaCI at the amino acid sequence level (50 and 62%, respectively) and by the presence of nine sequence motifs conserved among m6 N-adenine β-class methyltransferases. The deduced amino acid sequence of R · EcoVIII shows weak homology with its two isoschizomers, R · HindIII (26%) and R · LlaCI (17%). A catalytic sequence motif characteristic of restriction endonucleases was found in the primary structure of R · EcoVIII (D108X12DXK123), as well as in the primary structures of R · LlaCI and R · HindIII. Polyclonal antibodies raised against R · EcoVIII did not react with R · HindIII, while anti-M · EcoVIII antibodies cross-reacted with M · LlaCI but not with M · HindIII. R · EcoVIII requires Mg(II) ions for phosphodiester bond cleavage. We found that the same ions are strong inhibitors of the M · EcoVIII enzyme. The biological implications of this finding are discussed.
PMCID: PMC154532  PMID: 12732532
21.  Roles of DNA adenine methylation in host-pathogen interactions: mismatch repair, transcriptional regulation, and more 
FEMS microbiology reviews  2009;33(3):488-503.
The Dam methylase of gamma-proteobacteria and the CcrM methylase of alpha-proteobacteria catalyze an identical reaction (methylation of adenosine moieties using S-adenosyl-methionine as methyl donor) at similar DNA targets (GATC and GANTC, respectively). Dam and CcrM are of independent evolutionary origin. Each may have evolved from an ancestral restriction-modification system that lost its restriction component, leaving an “orphan” methylase devoted solely to epigenetic genome modification. Formation of 6-methyladenine lowers the thermodynamic stability of DNA and changes DNA curvature. As a consequence, the methylation state of specific adenosine moieties can affect DNA-protein interactions. Well known examples include binding of the replication initiation complex to the methylated oriC, recognition of hemimethylated GATCs in newly replicated DNA by the MutHLS mismatch repair complex, and discrimination of methylation states in promoters and regulatory DNA motifs by RNA polymerase and transcription factors. In recent years, Dam and CcrM have been shown to play roles in host-pathogen interactions. These roles are diverse and only partially understood. Especially intriguing is the evidence that Dam methylation regulates virulence genes in E. coli, Salmonella, and Yersinia at the postranscriptional level.
PMCID: PMC2941194  PMID: 19175412
Dam; CcrM; Pathogenic bacteria; Transcription; GATC regulation
22.  Identification of essential Alphaproteobacterial genes reveals operational variability in conserved developmental and cell cycle systems 
Molecular microbiology  2014;93(4):713-735.
The cell cycle of Caulobacter crescentus is controlled by a complex signaling network that coordinates events. Genome sequencing has revealed many C. crescentus cell cycle genes are conserved in other Alphaproteobacteria, but it is not clear to what extent their function is conserved. As many cell cycle regulatory genes are essential in C. crescentus, the essential genes of two Alphaproteobacteria, Agrobacterium tumefaciens (Rhizobiales) and Brevundimonas subvibrioides (Caulobacterales), were elucidated to identify changes in cell cycle protein function over different phylogenetic distances as demonstrated by changes in essentiality. The results show the majority of conserved essential genes are involved in critical cell cycle processes. Changes in component essentiality reflect major changes in lifestyle, such as divisome components in A. tumefaciens resulting from that organism’s different growth pattern. Larger variability of essentiality was observed in cell cycle regulators, suggesting regulatory mechanisms are more customizable than the processes they regulate. Examples include variability in the essentiality of divJ and divK spatial cell cycle regulators, and non-essentiality of the highly conserved and usually essential DNA methyltransferase CcrM. These results show that while essential cell functions are conserved across varying genetic distance, much of a given organism’s essential gene pool is specific to that organism.
PMCID: PMC4132054  PMID: 24975755
Alphaproteobacteria; Caulobacter; TnSeq; essential genes
23.  Expression of Escherichia coli dam gene in Bacillus subtilis provokes DNA damage response: N6-methyladenine is removed by two repair pathways. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1992;20(14):3607-3615.
The dam gene of Escherichia coli encodes a DNA methyltransferase that methylates the N6 position of adenine in the sequence GATC. It was stably expressed from a shuttle vector in a repair- and recombination-proficient strain of Bacillus subtilis. In this strain the majority of plasmid DNA molecules was modified at dam sites whereas most chromosomal DNA remained unmethylated during exponential growth. During stationary phase the amount of unmethylated DNA increased, suggesting that methylated bases were being removed. An ultraviolet damage repair-deficient mutant (uvrB) contained highly methylated chromosomal and plasmid DNA. High levels of Dam methylation were detrimental to growth and viability of this mutant strain and some features of the SOS response were also induced. A mutant defective in the synthesis of adaptive DNA alkyltransferases and induction of the adaptive response (ada) also showed high methylation and properties similar to that of the dam gene expressing uvrB strain. When protein extracts from B. subtilis expressing the Dam methyltransferase or treated with N-methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitroso-guanidine were incubated with [3H]-labelled Dam methylated DNA, the methyl label was bound to two proteins of 14 and 9 kD. Some free N6-methyladenine was also detected in the supernatant of the incubation mixture. We propose that N6-methyladenine residues are excised by proteins involved in both excision (uvrB) and the adaptive response (ada) DNA repair pathways in B. subtilis.
PMCID: PMC334008  PMID: 1641327
24.  DNA methyltransferases of the cyanobacterium Anabaena PCC 7120 
Nucleic Acids Research  2001;29(7):1491-1506.
From the characterization of enzyme activities and the analysis of genomic sequences, the complement of DNA methyltransferases (MTases) possessed by the cyanobacterium Anabaena PCC 7120 has been deduced. Anabaena has nine DNA MTases. Four are associated with Type II restriction enzymes (AvaI, AvaII, AvaIII and the newly recognized inactive AvaIV), and five are not. Of the latter, four may be classified as solitary MTases, those whose function lies outside of a restriction/modification system. The group is defined here based on biochemical and genetic characteristics. The four solitary MTases, DmtA/M.AvaVI, DmtB/M.AvaVII, DmtC/M.AvaVIII and DmtD/M.AvaIX, methylate at GATC, GGCC, CGATCG and rCCGGy, respectively. DmtB methylates cytosines at the N4 position, but its sequence is more similar to N6-adenine MTases than to cytosine-specific enzymes, indicating that it may have evolved from the former. The solitary MTases, appear to be of ancient origin within cyanobacteria, while the restriction MTases appear to have arrived by recent horizontal transfer as did five now inactive Type I restriction systems. One Mtase, M.AvaV, cannot reliably be classified as either a solitary or restriction MTase. It is structurally unusual and along with a few proteins of prokaryotic and eukaryotic origin defines a structural class of MTases distinct from all previously described.
PMCID: PMC31280  PMID: 11266551
25.  DNA Adenine Methyltransferase Influences the Virulence of Aeromonas hydrophila  
Infection and Immunity  2006;74(1):410-424.
Among the various virulence factors produced by Aeromonas hydrophila, a type II secretion system (T2SS)-secreted cytotoxic enterotoxin (Act) and the T3SS are crucial in the pathogenesis of Aeromonas-associated infections. Our laboratory molecularly characterized both Act and the T3SS from a diarrheal isolate, SSU of A. hydrophila, and defined the role of some regulatory genes in modulating the biological effects of Act. In this study, we cloned, sequenced, and expressed the DNA adenine methyltransferase gene of A. hydrophila SSU (damAhSSU) in a T7 promoter-based vector system using Escherichia coli ER2566 as a host strain, which could alter the virulence potential of A. hydrophila. Recombinant Dam, designated as M.AhySSUDam, was produced as a histidine-tagged fusion protein and purified from an E. coli cell lysate using nickel affinity chromatography. The purified Dam had methyltransferase activity, based on its ability to transfer a methyl group from S-adenosyl-l-methionine to N6-methyladenine-free lambda DNA and to protect methylated lambda DNA from digestion with DpnII but not against the DpnI restriction enzyme. The dam gene was essential for the viability of the bacterium, and overproduction of Dam in A. hydrophila SSU, using an arabinose-inducible, PBAD promoter-based system, reduced the virulence of this pathogen. Specifically, overproduction of M.AhySSUDam decreased the motility of the bacterium by 58%. Likewise, the T3SS-associated cytotoxicity, as measured by the release of lactate dehydrogenase enzyme in murine macrophages infected with the Dam-overproducing strain, was diminished by 55% compared to that of a control A. hydrophila SSU strain harboring the pBAD vector alone. On the contrary, cytotoxic and hemolytic activities associated with Act as well as the protease activity in the culture supernatant of a Dam-overproducing strain were increased by 10-, 3-, and 2.4-fold, respectively, compared to those of the control A. hydrophila SSU strain. The Dam-overproducing strain was not lethal to mice (100% survival) when given by the intraperitoneal route at a dose twice that of the 50% lethal dose, which within 2 to 3 days killed 100% of the animals inoculated with the A. hydrophila control strain. Taken together, our data indicated alteration of A. hydrophila virulence by overproduction of Dam.
PMCID: PMC1346675  PMID: 16368997

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