NAIL-MS reveals the repair of 2-methylthiocytidine by AlkB in E. coli

Nature Communications, 2019, 10, Article number: 5600

RNAs contain post-transcriptional modifications, which fulfill a variety of functions in translation, secondary structure stabilization and cellular stress survival. Here, 2-methylthiocytidine (ms2C) is identified in tRNA of E. coli and P. aeruginosa using NAIL-MS (nucleic acid isotope labeling coupled mass spectrometry) in combination with genetic screening experiments. ms2C is only found in 2-thiocytidine (s2C) containing tRNAs, namely tRNAArgCCG, tRNAArgICG, tRNAArgUCU and tRNASerGCU at low abundances. ms2C is not formed by commonly known tRNA methyltransferases. Instead, we observe its formation in vitro and in vivo during exposure to methylating agents. More than half of the s2C containing tRNA can be methylated to carry ms2C. With a pulse-chase NAIL-MS experiment, the repair mechanism by AlkB dependent sulfur demethylation is demonstrated in vivo. Overall, we describe ms2C as a bacterial tRNA modification and damage product. Its repair by AlkB and other pathways is demonstrated in vivo by our powerful NAIL-MS approach.

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