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Nucleic Acids Res. 2019 Jan 10;47(1):253-265. doi: 10.1093/nar/gky1125.

BREX system of Escherichia coli distinguishes self from non-self by methylation of a specific DNA site.

Author information

1
Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Moscow 143028, Russia.
2
Peter the Great St Petersburg State Polytechnic University, St Petersburg 195251, Russia.
3
Philip Morris International R&D, Philip Morris Products S.A., Neuchâtel 2000, Switzerland.
4
Institute of Biotechnology, Vilnius University, Sauletekio Avenue 7, Vilnius 10257, Lithuania.
5
Institute of Biochemistry, Vilnius University, Sauletekio Avenue 7, Vilnius 10257, Lithuania.
6
New England Biolabs, 240 County Road, Ipswich, MA 01938, USA.
7
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Center for Phage Technology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA.
8
Waksman Institute of Microbiology, Piscataway, NJ 08854, USA.

Abstract

Prokaryotes evolved numerous systems that defend against predation by bacteriophages. In addition to well-known restriction-modification and CRISPR-Cas immunity systems, many poorly characterized systems exist. One class of such systems, named BREX, consists of a putative phosphatase, a methyltransferase and four other proteins. A Bacillus cereus BREX system provides resistance to several unrelated phages and leads to modification of specific motif in host DNA. Here, we study the action of BREX system from a natural Escherichia coli isolate. We show that while it makes cells resistant to phage λ infection, induction of λ prophage from cells carrying BREX leads to production of viruses that overcome the defense. The induced phage DNA contains a methylated adenine residue in a specific motif. The same modification is found in the genome of BREX-carrying cells. The results establish, for the first time, that immunity to BREX system defense is provided by an epigenetic modification.

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