Published on Feb. 1, 2009 in RNA volume 15.
PubMed ID: 19144912
The Cfr methyltransferase confers combined resistance to five different classes of antibiotics that bind to the peptidyl transferase center of bacterial ribosomes. The Cfr-mediated modification has previously been shown to occur on nucleotide A2503 of 23S rRNA and has a mass corresponding to an additional methyl group, but its specific identity and position remained to be elucidated. A novel tandem mass spectrometry approach has been developed to further characterize the Cfr-catalyzed modification. Comparison of nucleoside fragmentation patterns of A2503 from Escherichia coli cfr+ and cfr- strains with those of a chemically synthesized nucleoside standard shows that Cfr catalyzes formation of 8-methyladenosine. In addition, analysis of RNA derived from E. coli strains lacking the m(2)A2503 methyltransferase reveals that Cfr also has the ability to catalyze methylation at position 2 to form 2,8-dimethyladenosine. The mutation of single conserved cysteine residues in the radical SAM motif CxxxCxxC of Cfr abolishes its activity, lending support to the notion that the Cfr modification reaction occurs via a radical-based mechanism. Antibiotic susceptibility data confirm that the antibiotic resistance conferred by Cfr is provided by methylation at the 8 position and is independent of methylation at the 2 position of A2503. This investigation is, to our knowledge, the first instance where the 8-methyladenosine modification has been described in natural RNA molecules.