Targeted DNA Methylation Using an Artificially Bisected M.HhaI Fused to Zinc Fingers
Little is known about the effects of single DNA methylation events on gene transcription. The ability to direct the methylation toward a single unique site within a genome would have broad use as a tool to study the effects of specific epigenetic changes on transcription. A targeted enzyme might also be useful in a therapy for diseases with an epigenetic component or as a means to site-specifically label DNA. Previous studies have sought to target methyltransferase activity by fusing DNA binding proteins to methyltransferases. However, the methyltransferase domain remains active even when the DNA binding protein is unbound, resulting in significant off-target methylation. A better strategy would make methyltransferase activity contingent upon the DNA binding protein’s association with its DNA binding site. We have designed targeted methyltransferases by fusing zinc fingers to the fragments of artificially-bisected, assembly-compromised methyltransferases. The zinc fingers’ binding sites flank the desired target site for methylation. Zinc finger binding localizes the two fragments near each other encouraging their assembly only over the desired site. Through a combination of molecular modeling and experimental optimization in E. coli, we created an engineered methyltransferase derived from M.HhaI with 50–60% methylation at a target site and nearly undetectable levels of methylation at a non-target M.HhaI site (1.4±2.4%). Using a restriction digestion assay, we demonstrate that localization of both fragments synergistically increases methylation at the target site, illustrating the promise of our approach.