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1.  Epigenetic transcriptional repression of cellular genes by a viral SET protein 
Nature cell biology  2008;10(9):1114-1122.
Viruses recruit host proteins to secure viral genome maintenance and replication. However, whether they modify host histones directly to interfere with chromatin-based transcription is unknown. Here we report that Paramecium bursaria chlorella virus 1 (PBCV-1) encodes a functional SET domain histone Lys methyltransferase (HKMTase) termed vSET, which is linked to rapid inhibition of host transcription after viral infection. We show that vSET is packaged in the PBCV-1 virion, and that it contains a nuclear localization signal and probably represses host transcription by methylating histone H3 at Lys 27 (H3K27), a modification known to trigger gene silencing in eukaryotes. We also show that vSET induces cell accumulation at the G2/M phase by recruiting the Polycomb repressive complex CBX8 to the methylated H3K27 site in a heterologous system. vSET-like proteins that have H3K27 methylation activity are conserved in chlorella viruses. Our findings suggest a viral mechanism to repress gene transcription by direct modification of chromatin by PBCV-1 vSET.
PMCID: PMC2898185  PMID: 19160493
2.  Formulating Fluorogenic Assay to Evaluate S-adenosyl-L-methionine Analogues as Protein Methyltransferase Cofactors 
Molecular bioSystems  2011;7(11):2970-2981.
Protein methyltransferases (PMTs) catalyze arginine and lysine methylation of diverse histone and nonhistone targets. These posttranslational modifications play essential roles in regulating multiple cellular events in an epigenetic manner. In the recent process of defining PMT targets, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) analogues have emerged as powerful small molecule probes to label and profile PMT targets. To examine efficiently the reactivity of PMTs and their variants on SAM analogues, we transformed a fluorogenic PMT assay into a ready high throughput screening (HTS) format. The reformulated fluorogenic assay is featured by its uncoupled but more robust character with the first step of accumulation of the commonly-shared reaction byproduct S-adenosyl-L-homocysteine (SAH), followed by SAH-hydrolyase-mediated fluorogenic quantification. The HTS readiness and robustness of the assay were demonstrated by its excellent Z′ values of 0.83–0.95 for the so-far-examined 8 human PMTs with SAM as a cofactor (PRMT1, PRMT3, CARM1, SUV39H2, SET7/9, SET8, G9a and GLP1). The fluorogenic assay was further implemented to screen the PMTs against five SAM analogues (allyl-SAM, propargyl-SAM, (E)-pent-2-en-4-ynyl-SAM (EnYn-SAM), (E)-hex-2-en-5-ynyl-SAM (Hey-SAM) and 4-propargyloxy-but-2-enyl-SAM (Pob-SAM)). Among the examined 8×5 pairs of PMTs and SAM analogues, native SUV39H2, G9a and GLP1 showed promiscuous activity on allyl-SAM. In contrast, the bulky SAM analogues, such as EnYn-SAM, Hey-SAM and Pob-SAM are inert toward the panel of human PMTs. These findings therefore provide the useful structure-activity guidance to further evolve PMTs and SAM analogues for substrate labeling. The current assay format is ready to screen methyltransferase variants on structurally-diverse SAM analogues.
PMCID: PMC3575546  PMID: 21866297
3.  Viral Encoded Enzymes that Target Host Chromatin Functions 
Biochimica et biophysica acta  2009;1799(3-4):296-301.
Ever since their existence, there has been an everlasting arms race between viruses and their host cells. Host cells have developed numerous strategies to silence viral gene expression whereas viruses always find their ways to overcome these obstacles. Recent studies show that viruses have also evolved to take full advantage of existing cellular chromatin components to activate or repress its own genes when needed. While in most cases viruses encode certain proteins to recruit or inhibit cellular factors through physical interactions, growing examples show that viral encoded enzymes affect host chromatin structure through post-translationally modifying histones or other cellular proteins important for chromatin function. The most well studied example is vSET encoded by paramecium bursaria chlorella virus 1. vSET specifically methylates histone H3 at lysine 27, causing genome-wide silencing of Polycomb target genes upon infection, thus mimicking the function of Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) in eukaryotes. Other examples include BGLF4 from Epstein-Barr virus that affects both condensin and topoisomerase II activity and Us3 from Herpes Simplex virus 1 that inhibits HDAC1 function through phosphorylation.
PMCID: PMC2923641  PMID: 19716451
4.  Structural Context of Disease-Associated Mutations and Putative Mechanism of Autoinhibition Revealed by X-Ray Crystallographic Analysis of the EZH2-SET Domain 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e84147.
The enhancer-of-zeste homolog 2 (EZH2) gene product is an 87 kDa polycomb group (PcG) protein containing a C-terminal methyltransferase SET domain. EZH2, along with binding partners, i.e., EED and SUZ12, upon which it is dependent for activity forms the core of the polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2). PRC2 regulates gene silencing by catalyzing the methylation of histone H3 at lysine 27. Both overexpression and mutation of EZH2 are associated with the incidence and aggressiveness of various cancers. The novel crystal structure of the SET domain was determined in order to understand disease-associated EZH2 mutations and derive an explanation for its inactivity independent of complex formation. The 2.00 Å crystal structure reveals that, in its uncomplexed form, the EZH2 C-terminus folds back into the active site blocking engagement with substrate. Furthermore, the S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) binding pocket observed in the crystal structure of homologous SET domains is notably absent. This suggests that a conformational change in the EZH2 SET domain, dependent upon complex formation, must take place for cofactor and substrate binding activities to be recapitulated. In addition, the data provide a structural context for clinically significant mutations found in the EZH2 SET domain.
PMCID: PMC3868555  PMID: 24367637
5.  Biochemical and Structural Insights into the Mechanisms of SARS Coronavirus RNA Ribose 2′-O-Methylation by nsp16/nsp10 Protein Complex 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002294.
The 5′-cap structure is a distinct feature of eukaryotic mRNAs, and eukaryotic viruses generally modify the 5′-end of viral RNAs to mimic cellular mRNA structure, which is important for RNA stability, protein translation and viral immune escape. SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) encodes two S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM)-dependent methyltransferases (MTase) which sequentially methylate the RNA cap at guanosine-N7 and ribose 2′-O positions, catalyzed by nsp14 N7-MTase and nsp16 2′-O-MTase, respectively. A unique feature for SARS-CoV is that nsp16 requires non-structural protein nsp10 as a stimulatory factor to execute its MTase activity. Here we report the biochemical characterization of SARS-CoV 2′-O-MTase and the crystal structure of nsp16/nsp10 complex bound with methyl donor SAM. We found that SARS-CoV nsp16 MTase methylated m7GpppA-RNA but not m7GpppG-RNA, which is in contrast with nsp14 MTase that functions in a sequence-independent manner. We demonstrated that nsp10 is required for nsp16 to bind both m7GpppA-RNA substrate and SAM cofactor. Structural analysis revealed that nsp16 possesses the canonical scaffold of MTase and associates with nsp10 at 1∶1 ratio. The structure of the nsp16/nsp10 interaction interface shows that nsp10 may stabilize the SAM-binding pocket and extend the substrate RNA-binding groove of nsp16, consistent with the findings in biochemical assays. These results suggest that nsp16/nsp10 interface may represent a better drug target than the viral MTase active site for developing highly specific anti-coronavirus drugs.
Author Summary
The distinctive feature of eukaryotic mRNAs is the presence of methylated cap structure that is required for mRNA stability and protein translation. As all viruses employ cellular ribosomes for protein translation, most cytoplasmically replicating eukaryotic viruses including coronaviruses have evolved strategies to cap their RNAs. It was shown very recently that ribose 2′-O-methylation in the cap structure of viral RNAs plays an important role in viral escape from innate immune recognition. The 2′-O-methyltransferase (2′-O-MTase) encoded by SARS coronavirus is composed of two subunits, the catalytic subunit nsp16 and the stimulatory subunit nsp10, which is different from all other known 2′-O-MTases that are partner-independent. Here we show that the role of nsp10 is to promote nsp16 to bind capped RNA substrate and the methyl donor S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM). We solved the crystal structure of the nsp16/nsp10/SAM complex, and the structural analysis revealed that the details of the inter-molecular interactions and indicated that nsp10 may stabilize the SAM-binding pocket and extend the capped RNA-binding groove. The interaction interface of nsp16/nsp10 is unique for coronaviruses and thus may provide an attractive target for developing specific antiviral drugs for control of coronaviruses including the deadly SARS coronavirus.
PMCID: PMC3192843  PMID: 22022266
6.  Molecular architecture of human polycomb repressive complex 2 
eLife  2012;1:e00005.
Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2) is essential for gene silencing, establishing transcriptional repression of specific genes by tri-methylating Lysine 27 of histone H3, a process mediated by cofactors such as AEBP2. In spite of its biological importance, little is known about PRC2 architecture and subunit organization. Here, we present the first three-dimensional electron microscopy structure of the human PRC2 complex bound to its cofactor AEBP2. Using a novel internal protein tagging-method, in combination with isotopic chemical cross-linking and mass spectrometry, we have localized all the PRC2 subunits and their functional domains and generated a detailed map of interactions. The position and stabilization effect of AEBP2 suggests an allosteric role of this cofactor in regulating gene silencing. Regions in PRC2 that interact with modified histone tails are localized near the methyltransferase site, suggesting a molecular mechanism for the chromatin-based regulation of PRC2 activity.
eLife digest
Protein complexes—stable structures that contain two or more proteins—have an important role in the biochemical processes that are associated with the expression of genes. Some help to silence genes, whereas others are involved in the activation of genes. The importance of such complexes is emphasized by the fact that mice die as embryos, or are born with serious defects, if they do not possess the protein complex known as Polycomb Repressive Complex 2, or PRC2 for short.
It is known that the core of this complex, which is found in species that range from Drosophila to humans, is composed of four different proteins, and that the structures of two of these have been determined with atomic precision. It is also known that PRC2 requires a particular protein co-factor (called AEBP2) to perform this function. Moreover, it has been established that PRC2 silences genes by adding two or three methyl (CH3) groups to a particular amino acid (Lysine 27) in one of the proteins (histone H3) that DNA strands wrap around in the nucleus of cells. However, despite its biological importance, little is known about the detailed architecture of PRC2.
Ciferri et al. shed new light on the structure of this complex by using electron microscopy to produce the first three-dimensional image of the human PRC2 complex bound to its cofactor. By incorporating various protein tags into the co-factor and the four subunits of the PRC2, and by employing mass spectrometry and other techniques, Ciferri et al. were able to identify 60 or so interaction sites within the PRC2-cofactor system, and to determine their locations within the overall structure.
The results show that the cofactor stabilizes the architecture of the complex by binding to it at a central hinge point. In particular, the protein domains within the PRC2 that interact with the histone markers are close to the site that transfer the methyl groups, which helps to explain how the gene silencing activity of the PRC2 complex is regulated. The results should pave the way to a more complete understanding of how PRC2 and its cofactor are able to silence genes.
PMCID: PMC3482686  PMID: 23110252
cryo-EM; Gene silencing; labeling; chemical cross-linking; chromatin; Human
7.  West Nile Virus Methyltransferase Catalyzes Two Methylations of the Viral RNA Cap through a Substrate-Repositioning Mechanism▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(9):4295-4307.
Flaviviruses encode a single methyltransferase domain that sequentially catalyzes two methylations of the viral RNA cap, GpppA-RNA→m7GpppA-RNA→m7GpppAm-RNA, by using S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM) as a methyl donor. Crystal structures of flavivirus methyltransferases exhibit distinct binding sites for SAM, GTP, and RNA molecules. Biochemical analysis of West Nile virus methyltransferase shows that the single SAM-binding site donates methyl groups to both N7 and 2′-O positions of the viral RNA cap, the GTP-binding pocket functions only during the 2′-O methylation, and two distinct sets of amino acids in the RNA-binding site are required for the N7 and 2′-O methylations. These results demonstrate that flavivirus methyltransferase catalyzes two cap methylations through a substrate-repositioning mechanism. In this mechanism, guanine N7 of substrate GpppA-RNA is first positioned to SAM to generate m7GpppA-RNA, after which the m7G moiety is repositioned to the GTP-binding pocket to register the 2′-OH of the adenosine with SAM, generating m7GpppAm-RNA. Because N7 cap methylation is essential for viral replication, inhibitors designed to block the pocket identified for the N7 cap methylation could be developed for flavivirus therapy.
PMCID: PMC2293060  PMID: 18305027
8.  Profiling Substrates of Protein Arginine N-Methyltransferase 3 with S-Adenosyl-L-methionine Analogues 
ACS chemical biology  2013;9(2):476-484.
Protein arginine N-methyltransferase 3 (PRMT3) belongs to the family of type I PRMTs and harbors the activity to use S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) as a methyl-donor cofactor for protein arginine labeling. However, PRMT3’s functions remain elusive with the lacked knowledge of its target scope in cellular settings. Inspired by the emerging Bioorthogonal Profiling of Protein Methylation (BPPM) using engineered methyltransferases and SAM analogues for target identification, the current work documented the endeavor to systematically explore the SAM-binding pocket of PRMT3 and identify suitable PRMT3 variants for BPPM. The M233G single point mutation transforms PRMT3 into a promiscuous alkyltransferase using sp2-β-sulfonium-containing SAM analogues as cofactor surrogates. Here the conserved methionine was defined as a hot spot that can be engineered alone or in the combination with nearby residues to render cofactor promiscuity of multiple type I PRMTs. With this promiscuous variant and the matched 4-propargyloxy-but-2-enyl (Pob)-SAM analogue as the BPPM reagents, more than 80 novel proteins were readily uncovered as potential targets of PRMT3 in the cellular context. Subsequent target validation and functional analysis correlated the PRMT3 methylation to several biological processes such as cytoskeleton dynamics, whose roles might be compensated by other PRMTs. These BPPM-revealed substrates are primarily localized but not restricted in cytoplasm, the preferred site of PRMT3. The broad localization pattern may implicate the diverse roles of PRMT3 in the cellular setting. The revelation of PRMT3 targets and the transformative character of BPPM for other PRMTs present unprecedented pathways toward elucidating physiological and pathological roles of diverse PRMTs.
PMCID: PMC3944066  PMID: 24320160
9.  Flavivirus methyltransferase: a novel antiviral target 
Antiviral research  2008;80(1):1-10.
Many flaviviruses are significant human pathogens. No effective antiviral therapy is currently available for treatment of flavivirus infections. Development of antiviral treatment against these viruses is urgently needed. The flavivirus methyltransferase (MTase) responsible for N-7 and 2'-O methylation of the viral RNA cap has recently been mapped to the N-terminal region of nonstructural protein 5. Structural and functional studies suggest that the MTase represents a novel antiviral target. Here we review current understanding of flavivirus RNA cap methylation and its implications for development of antivirals. The 5' end of the flavivirus plus-strand RNA genome contains a type 1 cap structure (m7GpppAmG). Flaviviruses encode a single MTase domain that catalyzes two sequential methylations of the viral RNA cap, GpppA-RNA→m7GpppA-RNA→m7GpppAm-RNA, using S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) as the methyl donor. The two reactions require different viral RNA elements and distinct biochemical assay conditions. Despite exhibiting two distinct methylation activities, flavivirus MTase contains a single binding site for SAM in its crystal structure. Therefore, substrate GpppA-RNA must be re-positioned to accept the N-7 and 2'-O methyl groups from SAM during the two methylation reactions. Structure-guided mutagenesis studies indeed revealed two distinct sets of amino acids on the enzyme surface that are specifically required for N-7 and 2'-O methylation. In the context of virus, West Nile viruses (WNV) defective in N-7 methylation are non-replicative; however, WNVs defective in 2'-O methylation are attenuated and can protect mice from subsequent wild-type WNV challenge. Collectively, the results demonstrate that the N-7 MTase represents a novel target for flavivirus therapy.
PMCID: PMC3214650  PMID: 18571739
Flavivirus NS5; Methyltransferase; Flavivirus replication; Antiviral therapy; West Nile virus; dengue virus; yellow fever virus; Japanese encephalitis virus; tick-borne encephalitis virus
10.  An Ash2L/RbBP5 Heterodimer Stimulates the MLL1 Methyltransferase Activity through Coordinated Substrate Interactions with the MLL1 SET Domain 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e14102.
Histone H3 lysine 4 (K4) methylation is a prevalent mark associated with transcription activation and is mainly catalyzed by the MLL/SET1 family histone methyltransferases. A common feature of the mammalian MLL/SET1 complexes is the presence of three core components (RbBP5, Ash2L and WDR5) and a catalytic subunit containing a SET domain. Unlike most other histone lysine methyltransferases, all four proteins are required for efficient H3 K4 methylation. Despite extensive efforts, mechanisms for how three core components regulate MLL/SET1 methyltransferase activity remain elusive. Here we show that a heterodimer of Ash2L and RbBP5 has intrinsic histone methyltransferase activity. This activity requires the highly conserved SPRY domain of Ash2L and a short peptide of RbBP5. We demonstrate that both Ash2L and the MLL1 SET domain are capable of binding to S-adenosyl-L- [methyl-3H] methionine in the MLL1 core complex. Mutations in the MLL1 SET domain that fail to support overall H3 K4 methylation also compromise SAM binding by Ash2L. Taken together, our results show that the Ash2L/RbBP5 heterodimer plays a critical role in the overall catalysis of MLL1 mediated H3 K4 methylation. The results we describe here provide mechanistic insights for unique regulation of the MLL1 methyltransferase activity. It suggests that both Ash2L/RbBP5 and the MLL1 SET domain make direct contacts with the substrates and contribute to the formation of a joint catalytic center. Given the shared core configuration among all MLL/SET1 family HMTs, it will be interesting to test whether the mechanism we describe here can be generalized to other MLL/SET1 family members in the future.
PMCID: PMC2990719  PMID: 21124902
11.  Genomewide Analysis of PRC1 and PRC2 Occupancy Identifies Two Classes of Bivalent Domains 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(10):e1000242.
In embryonic stem (ES) cells, bivalent chromatin domains with overlapping repressive (H3 lysine 27 tri-methylation) and activating (H3 lysine 4 tri-methylation) histone modifications mark the promoters of more than 2,000 genes. To gain insight into the structure and function of bivalent domains, we mapped key histone modifications and subunits of Polycomb-repressive complexes 1 and 2 (PRC1 and PRC2) genomewide in human and mouse ES cells by chromatin immunoprecipitation, followed by ultra high-throughput sequencing. We find that bivalent domains can be segregated into two classes—the first occupied by both PRC2 and PRC1 (PRC1-positive) and the second specifically bound by PRC2 (PRC2-only). PRC1-positive bivalent domains appear functionally distinct as they more efficiently retain lysine 27 tri-methylation upon differentiation, show stringent conservation of chromatin state, and associate with an overwhelming number of developmental regulator gene promoters. We also used computational genomics to search for sequence determinants of Polycomb binding. This analysis revealed that the genomewide locations of PRC2 and PRC1 can be largely predicted from the locations, sizes, and underlying motif contents of CpG islands. We propose that large CpG islands depleted of activating motifs confer epigenetic memory by recruiting the full repertoire of Polycomb complexes in pluripotent cells.
Author Summary
Polycomb-group (PcG) proteins play essential roles in the epigenetic regulation of gene expression during development. PcG proteins are repressors that catalyze lysine 27 tri-methylation on histone H3. They are antagonized by trithorax-group proteins that catalyze lysine 4 tri-methylation. Recent studies of ES cells revealed a novel chromatin pattern consisting of overlapping lysine 27 and lysine 4 tri-methylation. Genomic regions with these opposing modifications were termed “bivalent domains” and proposed to silence developmental regulators while keeping them “poised” for alternate fates. However, our understanding of PcG regulation and bivalent domains remains limited. For instance, bivalent domains affect over 2,000 promoters with diverse functions, which suggests that they may function in diverse cellular processes. Moreover, the mechanisms that underlie the targeting of PcG complexes to specific genomic regions remain completely unknown. To gain insight into these issues, we used ultra high-throughput sequencing to map PcG complexes and related modifications genomewide in human and mouse ES cells. The data identify two classes of bivalent domains with distinct regulatory properties. They also reveal striking relationships between genome sequence and chromatin state that suggest a prominent role for the DNA sequence in dictating the genomewide localization of PcG complexes and, consequently, bivalent domains in ES cells.
PMCID: PMC2567431  PMID: 18974828
12.  Targeted gene suppression by inducing de novo DNA methylation in the gene promoter 
Targeted gene silencing is an important approach in both drug development and basic research. However, the selection of a potent suppressor has become a significant hurdle to implementing maximal gene inhibition for this approach. We attempted to construct a ‘super suppressor’ by combining the activities of two suppressors that function through distinct epigenetic mechanisms.
Gene targeting vectors were constructed by fusing a GAL4 DNA-binding domain with a epigenetic suppressor, including CpG DNA methylase Sss1, histone H3 lysine 27 methylase vSET domain, and Kruppel-associated suppression box (KRAB). We found that both Sss1 and KRAB suppressors significantly inhibited the expression of luciferase and copGFP reporter genes. However, the histone H3 lysine 27 methylase vSET did not show significant suppression in this system. Constructs containing both Sss1 and KRAB showed better inhibition than either one alone. In addition, we show that KRAB suppressed gene expression by altering the histone code, but not DNA methylation in the gene promoter. Sss1, on the other hand, not only induced de novo DNA methylation and recruited Heterochromatin Protein 1 (HP1a), but also increased H3K27 and H3K9 methylation in the promoter.
Epigenetic studies can provide useful data for the selection of suppressors in constructing therapeutic vectors for targeted gene silencing.
PMCID: PMC4150861  PMID: 25184003
Gene suppression; Epigenetics; DNA methylation; Histone code; H3K27 methylation; Gene expression
13.  Structure and Function of Flavivirus NS5 Methyltransferase▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(8):3891-3903.
The plus-strand RNA genome of flavivirus contains a 5′ terminal cap 1 structure (m7GpppAmG). The flaviviruses encode one methyltransferase, located at the N-terminal portion of the NS5 protein, to catalyze both guanine N-7 and ribose 2′-OH methylations during viral cap formation. Representative flavivirus methyltransferases from dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus (WNV) sequentially generate GpppA → m7GpppA → m7GpppAm. The 2′-O methylation can be uncoupled from the N-7 methylation, since m7GpppA-RNA can be readily methylated to m7GpppAm-RNA. Despite exhibiting two distinct methylation activities, the crystal structure of WNV methyltransferase at 2.8 Å resolution showed a single binding site for S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM), the methyl donor. Therefore, substrate GpppA-RNA should be repositioned to accept the N-7 and 2′-O methyl groups from SAM during the sequential reactions. Electrostatic analysis of the WNV methyltransferase structure showed that, adjacent to the SAM-binding pocket, is a highly positively charged surface that could serve as an RNA binding site during cap methylations. Biochemical and mutagenesis analyses show that the N-7 and 2′-O cap methylations require distinct buffer conditions and different side chains within the K61-D146-K182-E218 motif, suggesting that the two reactions use different mechanisms. In the context of complete virus, defects in both methylations are lethal to WNV; however, viruses defective solely in 2′-O methylation are attenuated and can protect mice from later wild-type WNV challenge. The results demonstrate that the N-7 methylation activity is essential for the WNV life cycle and, thus, methyltransferase represents a novel target for flavivirus therapy.
PMCID: PMC1866096  PMID: 17267492
14.  Assay Development for Histone Methyltransferases 
Epigenetic modifications play a crucial role in human diseases. Unlike genetic mutations, however, they do not change the underlying DNA sequences. Epigenetic phenomena have gained increased attention in the field of cancer research, with many studies indicating that they are significantly involved in tumor establishment and progression. Histone methyltransferases (HMTs) are a large group of enzymes that specifically methylate protein lysine and arginine residues, especially in histones, using S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM) as the methyl donor. However, in general, HMTs have no widely accepted high-throughput screening (HTS) assay format, and reference inhibitors are not available for many of the enzymes. In this study, we describe the application of a miniaturized, radioisotope-based reaction system: the HotSpotSM platform for methyltransferases. Since this platform employs tritiated SAM as a cofactor, it can be applied to the assay of any HMT. The key advantage of this format is that any substrate can be used, including peptides, proteins, or even nucleosomes, without the need for labeling or any other modifications. Using this platform, we have determined substrate specificities, characterized enzyme kinetics, performed compound profiling for both lysine and arginine methyltransferases, and carried out HTS for a small-library LOPAC against DOT1L. After hit confirmation and profiling, we found that suramin inhibited DOT1L, NSD2, and PRMT4 with IC50 values at a low μM range.
PMCID: PMC3656627  PMID: 23557020
15.  Labeling Substrates of Protein Arginine Methyltransferase with Engineered Enzymes and Matched S-Adenosyl-L-methionine Analogues 
Elucidating physiological and pathogenic functions of protein methyltransferases (PMTs) relies on knowing their substrate profiles. S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) is the sole methyl-donor cofactor of PMTs. Recently, SAM analogues have emerged as novel small-molecule tools to label PMT substrates. Here we reported the development of a clickable SAM analogue cofactor, 4-propargyloxy-but-2-enyl SAM, and its implementation to label substrates of human protein arginine methyltransferase 1 (PRMT1). In the system, the SAM analogue cofactor, coupled with matched PRMT1 mutants rather than native PRMT1, was shown to efficiently label PRMT1 substrates. The transferable 4-propargyloxy-but-2-enyl moiety of the SAM analogue further allowed corresponding modified substrates to be characterized through a subsequent click chemical ligation with an azido-based probe. The SAM analogue, in combination with a rational protein-engineering approach, thus demonstrates potential to label and identify PMT targets in the context of a complex cellular mixture.
PMCID: PMC3104021  PMID: 21539310
16.  A novel route to product specificity in the Suv4-20 family of histone H4K20 methyltransferases 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(1):661-671.
The delivery of site-specific post-translational modifications to histones generates an epigenetic regulatory network that directs fundamental DNA-mediated processes and governs key stages in development. Methylation of histone H4 lysine-20 has been implicated in DNA repair, transcriptional silencing, genomic stability and regulation of replication. We present the structure of the histone H4K20 methyltransferase Suv4-20h2 in complex with its histone H4 peptide substrate and S-adenosyl methionine cofactor. Analysis of the structure reveals that the Suv4-20h2 active site diverges from the canonical SET domain configuration and generates a high degree of both substrate and product specificity. Together with supporting biochemical data comparing Suv4-20h1 and Suv4-20h2, we demonstrate that the Suv4-20 family enzymes take a previously mono-methylated H4K20 substrate and generate an exclusively di-methylated product. We therefore predict that other enzymes are responsible for the tri-methylation of histone H4K20 that marks silenced heterochromatin.
PMCID: PMC3874154  PMID: 24049080
17.  Polycomb-Like 3 Promotes Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 Binding to CpG Islands and Embryonic Stem Cell Self-Renewal 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002576.
Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) trimethylates lysine 27 of histone H3 (H3K27me3) to regulate gene expression during diverse biological transitions in development, embryonic stem cell (ESC) differentiation, and cancer. Here, we show that Polycomb-like 3 (Pcl3) is a component of PRC2 that promotes ESC self-renewal. Using mass spectrometry, we identified Pcl3 as a Suz12 binding partner and confirmed Pcl3 interactions with core PRC2 components by co-immunoprecipitation. Knockdown of Pcl3 in ESCs increases spontaneous differentiation, yet does not affect early differentiation decisions as assessed in teratomas and embryoid bodies, indicating that Pcl3 has a specific role in regulating ESC self-renewal. Consistent with Pcl3 promoting PRC2 function, decreasing Pcl3 levels reduces H3K27me3 levels while overexpressing Pcl3 increases H3K27me3 levels. Furthermore, chromatin immunoprecipitation and sequencing (ChIP-seq) reveal that Pcl3 co-localizes with PRC2 core component, Suz12, and depletion of Pcl3 decreases Suz12 binding at over 60% of PRC2 targets. Mutation of conserved residues within the Pcl3 Tudor domain, a domain implicated in recognizing methylated histones, compromises H3K27me3 formation, suggesting that the Tudor domain of Pcl3 is essential for function. We also show that Pcl3 and its paralog, Pcl2, exist in different PRC2 complexes but bind many of the same PRC2 targets, particularly CpG islands regulated by Pcl3. Thus, Pcl3 is a component of PRC2 critical for ESC self-renewal, histone methylation, and recruitment of PRC2 to a subset of its genomic sites.
Author Summary
Embryonic development requires coordinated changes in gene expression for the differentiation of specific cell types. Regulated changes in gene expression are also important for maintaining tissue homeostasis and preventing cancer. Histone modifications contribute to the control of gene expression by affecting chromatin structure and the recruitment of regulatory proteins. Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) catalyzes the methylation of a lysine residue on histone H3, an early step in gene repression. By investigating how PRC2 is recruited to genes, we have found that Polycomb-like 3 (Pcl3), a protein upregulated in diverse cancers, is a component of PRC2 that promotes its binding and function at target genes. Consistent with roles for PRC2 in regulating stem cell behaviors, Pcl3 is important for embryonic stem cell self-renewal. Thus, Pcl3 is a critical regulator of gene repression and stem cell self-renewal that acts by controlling PRC2 binding to target genes.
PMCID: PMC3305387  PMID: 22438827
18.  Bioorthogonal Profiling of Protein Methylation (BPPM) Using Azido Derivative of S-adenosyl-L-methionine 
Protein methyltransferases (PMTs) play critical roles in multiple biological processes. Because PMTs often function in vivo through forming multimeric protein complexes, dissecting their activities in the native contexts is challenging but relevant. To address such a need, we envisioned a Bioorthogonal Profiling of Protein Methylation (BPPM) technology, in which a SAM analogue cofactor can be utilized by multiple rationally-engineered PMTs to label substrates of the corresponding native PMTs. Here 4-azido-but-2-enyl derivative of S-adenosyl-L-methionine (Ab-SAM) was reported as a suitable BPPM cofactor. The resultant cofactor-enzyme pairs were implemented to label specifically the substrates of closely related PMTs (e. g. EuHMT1 and EuHMT2) in a complex cellular mixture. The BPPM approach, coupled with mass spectrometric analysis, enables the identification of the non-histone targets of EuHMT1/2. Comparison of EuHMT1/2’s methylomes indicates that the two human PMTs, though similar in terms of their primary sequences, can act on the distinct sets of nonhistone targets. Given the conserved active sites of PMTs, Ab-SAM and its use in BPPM are expected to be transferable to other PMTs for target identification.
PMCID: PMC3336210  PMID: 22404544
19.  Structural and Functional Profiling of the Human Histone Methyltransferase SMYD3 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22290.
The SET and MYND Domain (SMYD) proteins comprise a unique family of multi-domain SET histone methyltransferases that are implicated in human cancer progression. Here we report an analysis of the crystal structure of the full length human SMYD3 in a complex with an analog of the S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) methyl donor cofactor. The structure revealed an overall compact architecture in which the “split-SET” domain adopts a canonical SET domain fold and closely assembles with a Zn-binding MYND domain and a C-terminal superhelical 9 α-helical bundle similar to that observed for the mouse SMYD1 structure. Together, these structurally interlocked domains impose a highly confined binding pocket for histone substrates, suggesting a regulated mechanism for its enzymatic activity. Our mutational and biochemical analyses confirm regulatory roles of the unique structural elements both inside and outside the core SET domain and establish a previously undetected preference for trimethylation of H4K20.
PMCID: PMC3136521  PMID: 21779408
20.  Structure of the Catalytic Domain of EZH2 Reveals Conformational Plasticity in Cofactor and Substrate Binding Sites and Explains Oncogenic Mutations 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83737.
Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) is an important regulator of cellular differentiation and cell type identity. Overexpression or activating mutations of EZH2, the catalytic component of the PRC2 complex, are linked to hyper-trimethylation of lysine 27 of histone H3 (H3K27me3) in many cancers. Potent EZH2 inhibitors that reduce levels of H3K27me3 kill mutant lymphoma cells and are efficacious in a mouse xenograft model of malignant rhabdoid tumors. Unlike most SET domain methyltransferases, EZH2 requires PRC2 components, SUZ12 and EED, for activity, but the mechanism by which catalysis is promoted in the PRC2 complex is unknown. We solved the 2.0 Å crystal structure of the EZH2 methyltransferase domain revealing that most of the canonical structural features of SET domain methyltransferase structures are conserved. The site of methyl transfer is in a catalytically competent state, and the structure clarifies the structural mechanism underlying oncogenic hyper-trimethylation of H3K27 in tumors harboring mutations at Y641 or A677. On the other hand, the I-SET and post-SET domains occupy atypical positions relative to the core SET domain resulting in incomplete formation of the cofactor binding site and occlusion of the substrate binding groove. A novel CXC domain N-terminal to the SET domain may contribute to the apparent inactive conformation. We propose that protein interactions within the PRC2 complex modulate the trajectory of the post-SET and I-SET domains of EZH2 in favor of a catalytically competent conformation.
PMCID: PMC3868588  PMID: 24367611
21.  Structural Chemistry of Human SET Domain Protein Methyltransferases 
There are about fifty SET domain protein methyltransferases (PMTs) in the human genome, that transfer a methyl group from S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) to substrate lysines on histone tails or other peptides. A number of structures in complex with cofactor, substrate, or inhibitors revealed the mechanisms of substrate recognition, methylation state specificity, and chemical inhibition. Based on these structures, we review the structural chemistry of SET domain PMTs, and propose general concepts towards the development of selective inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3178901  PMID: 21966348
Methyltransferase; SET domain; structure; PMT; histone; epigenetics.
22.  S-Adenosyl-S-carboxymethyl-l-homocysteine: a novel cofactor found in the putative tRNA-modifying enzyme CmoA 
The putative methyltransferase CmoA is involved in the nucleoside modification of transfer RNA. X-ray crystallography and mass spectrometry are used to show that it contains a novel SAM derivative, S-adenosyl-S-carboxymethyl-l-homocysteine, in which the donor methyl group is replaced by a carboxymethyl group.
Uridine at position 34 of bacterial transfer RNAs is commonly modified to uridine-5-oxyacetic acid (cmo5U) to increase the decoding capacity. The protein CmoA is involved in the formation of cmo5U and was annotated as an S-adenosyl-l-methionine-dependent (SAM-dependent) methyltransferase on the basis of its sequence homology to other SAM-containing enzymes. However, both the crystal structure of Escherichia coli CmoA at 1.73 Å resolution and mass spectrometry demonstrate that it contains a novel cofactor, S-adenosyl-S-carboxymethyl-l-homocysteine (SCM-SAH), in which the donor methyl group is substituted by a carboxy­methyl group. The carboxyl moiety forms a salt-bridge interaction with Arg199 that is conserved in a large group of CmoA-related proteins but is not conserved in other SAM-containing enzymes. This raises the possibility that a number of enzymes that have previously been annotated as SAM-dependent are in fact SCM-SAH-dependent. Indeed, inspection of electron density for one such enzyme with known X-­ray structure, PDB entry 1im8, suggests that the active site contains SCM-SAH and not SAM.
PMCID: PMC3663124  PMID: 23695253
SCM-SAH; Escherichia coli; putative tRNA-modification enzyme; cmo5U biosynthesis
23.  SET for life: biochemical activities and biological functions of SET domain-containing proteins 
Trends in biochemical sciences  2013;38(12):621-639.
SET domain-containing proteins belong to a group of enzymes named after a common domain that utilizes the cofactor S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM) to achieve methylation of its substrates. Many SET domain-containing proteins have been shown to display catalytic activity towards particular lysine residues on histones, but emerging evidence also indicates that various non-histone proteins are specifically targeted by this clade of enzymes. Here, we summarize the most recent findings on the biological functions of the major families of SET domain-containing proteins catalyzing the methylation of histones 3 on lysines 4, 9, 27, and 36 (H3K4, H3K9, H3K27, and H3K36) and histone 4 on lysine 20 (H4K20) as well as candidates that have been reported to regulate non-histone substrates.
PMCID: PMC3941473  PMID: 24148750
SET domain-containing proteins; histone lysine methylation; non-histone substrates
24.  An Orally Bioavailable Chemical Probe of the Lysine Methyltransferases EZH2 and EZH1 
ACS chemical biology  2013;8(6):1324-1334.
EZH2 or EZH1 is the catalytic subunit of the polycomb repressive complex 2 that catalyzes methylation of histone H3 lysine 27 (H3K27). The trimethylation of H3K27 (H3K27me3) is a transcriptionally repressive post-translational modification. Overexpression of EZH2 and hypertrimethylation of H3K27 have been implicated in a number of cancers. Several selective inhibitors of EZH2 have been reported recently. Herein we disclose UNC1999, the first orally bioavailable inhibitor that has high in vitro potency for wild-type and mutant EZH2 as well as EZH1, a closely related H3K27 methyltransferase that shares 96% sequence identity with EZH2 in their respective catalytic domains. UNC1999 was highly selective for EZH2 and EZH1 over a broad range of epigenetic and non-epigenetic targets, competitive with the cofactor SAM, and non-competitive with the peptide substrate. This inhibitor potently reduced H3K27me3 levels in cells and selectively killed diffused large B cell lymphoma cell lines harboring the EZH2Y641N mutant. Importantly, UNC1999 was orally bioavailable in mice, making this inhibitor a valuable tool for investigating the role of EZH2 and EZH1 in chronic animal studies. We also designed and synthesized UNC2400, a close analog of UNC1999 with >1,000-fold lower potency than UNC1999 as a negative control for cell-based studies. Finally, we created a biotin-tagged UNC1999 (UNC2399) which enriched EZH2 in pull-down studies, and a UNC1999 – dye conjugate (UNC2239) for co-localization studies with EZH2 in live cells. Taken together, these compounds represent a set of useful tools for the biomedical community to investigate the role of EZH2 and EZH1 in health and disease.
PMCID: PMC3773059  PMID: 23614352
25.  Insights into the structure, function and evolution of the radical-SAM 23S rRNA methyltransferase Cfr that confers antibiotic resistance in bacteria 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;38(5):1652-1663.
The Cfr methyltransferase confers combined resistance to five classes of antibiotics that bind to the peptidyl tranferase center of bacterial ribosomes by catalyzing methylation of the C-8 position of 23S rRNA nucleotide A2503. The same nucleotide is targeted by the housekeeping methyltransferase RlmN that methylates the C-2 position. Database searches with the Cfr sequence have revealed a large group of closely related sequences from all domains of life that contain the conserved CX3CX2C motif characteristic of radical S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM) enzymes. Phylogenetic analysis of the Cfr/RlmN family suggests that the RlmN subfamily is likely the ancestral form, whereas the Cfr subfamily arose via duplication and horizontal gene transfer. A structural model of Cfr has been calculated and used as a guide for alanine mutagenesis studies that corroborate the model-based predictions of a 4Fe–4S cluster, a SAM molecule coordinated to the iron–sulfur cluster (SAM1) and a SAM molecule that is the putative methyl group donor (SAM2). All mutations at predicted functional sites affect Cfr activity significantly as assayed by antibiotic susceptibility testing and primer extension analysis. The investigation has identified essential amino acids and Cfr variants with altered reaction mechanisms and represents a first step towards understanding the structural basis of Cfr activity.
PMCID: PMC2836569  PMID: 20007606

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