Widespread 5-methylcytosine in the genomes of avian Coccidia and other apicomplexan parasites detected by an ELISA-based method
To date, little is known about cytosine methylation in the genomic DNA of apicomplexan parasites, although it has been confirmed that this important epigenetic modification exists in many lower eukaryotes, plants, and animals. In the present study, ELISA-based detection demonstrated that low levels of 5-methylcytosine (5-mC) are present in Eimeria spp., Toxoplasma gondii, Cryptosporidium spp., and Neospora caninum. The proportions of 5-mC in genomic DNA were 0.18 ± 0.02% in E tenella sporulated oocysts, 0.19 ± 0.01% in E. tenella second-generation merozoites, 0.22 ± 0.04% in T. gondii tachyzoites, 0.28 ± 0.03% in N. caninum tachyzoites, and 0.06 ± 0.01, 0.11 ± 0.01, and 0.09 ± 0.01% in C. andersoni, C. baileyi, and C. parvum sporulated oocysts, respectively. In addition, we found that the percentages of 5-mC in E. tenella varied considerably at different life stages, with sporozoites having the highest percentage of 5-mC (0.78 ± 0.10%). Similar stage differences in 5-mC were also found in E. maxima, E. necatrix, and E. acervulina, the levels of 5-mC in their sporozoites being 4.3-, 1.8-, 2.5-, and 2.0-fold higher than that of sporulated oocysts, respectively (p < 0.01). Furthermore, a total DNA methyltransferase-like activity was detected in whole cell extracts prepared from E. tenella sporozoites. In conclusion, genomic DNA methylation is present in these apicomplexan parasites and may play a role in the stage conversion of Eimeria.