DNA methyltransferases and epigenetic regulation in bacteria

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Epigenetics is a change in gene expression that is heritable without a change in DNA sequence itself. This phenomenon is well studied in eukaryotes, particularly in humans for its role in cellular differentiation, X chromosome inactivation and diseases like cancer. However, comparatively little is known about epigenetic regulation in bacteria. Bacterial epigenetics is mainly present in the form of DNA methylation where DNA methyltransferases add methyl groups to nucleotides. This review focuses on two methyltransferases well characterized for their roles in gene regulation: Dam and CcrM. Dam methyltransferase in Escherichia coli is important for expression of certain genes such as the pap operon, as well as other cellular processes like DNA replication initiation and DNA repair. In Caulobacter crescentus and other Alphaproteobacteria, the methyltransferase CcrM is cell cycle regulated and is involved in the cell-cycle-dependent regulation of several genes. The diversity of regulatory targets as well as regulatory mechanisms suggests that gene regulation by methylation could be a widespread and potent method of regulation in bacteria.

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