2'-O-methylation within prokaryotic and eukaryotic tRNA inhibits innate immune activation by endosomal Toll-like receptors but does not affect recognition of whole organisms.

Isabel Freund, Daniel K. Buhl, Sébastien Boutin, Annika Kotter, Florian Pichot, Virginie Marchand, Tim Vierbuchen, Holger Heine, Yuri Motorin, Mark Helm, Alexander H. Dalpke, Tatjana Eigenbrod


Bacterial RNA has emerged as an important activator of innate immune responses by stimulating Toll-like receptors TLR7 and TLR8 in humans. Guanosine 2'-O-methylation at position 18 (Gm18) in bacterial tRNA was shown to antagonize tRNA-induced TLR7/8 activation, suggesting a potential role of Gm18 as an immune escape mechanism. This modification also occurs in eukaryotic tRNA, yet a physiological immune function remained to be tested. We therefore set out to investigate the immune modulatory role of Gm18 in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms, Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and in human cells. Using RiboMethSeq analysis we show that mutation of trmH in E. coli, trm3 in S. cereviase, and CRISPR/Cas9-induced knockout of TARBP1 in H. sapiens results in loss of Gm18 within tRNA. Lack of Gm18 across the kingdoms resulted in increased immunostimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells when activated by tRNA preparations. In E. coli, lack of 2'-O-methyltransferase trmH also enhanced immune stimulatory properties by whole cellular RNA. In contrast, lack of Gm18 in yeasts and human cells did not affect immunostimulation by whole RNA preparations. When using live E. coli bacteria, lack of trmH did not affect overall immune stimulation although we detected a defined TLR8/RNA-dependent gene expression signature upon E. coli infection. Together, these results demonstrate that Gm18 is a global immune inhibitory tRNA modification across the kingdoms and contributes to tRNA recognition by innate immune cells, but as an individual modification has insufficient potency to modulate recognition of the investigated microorganisms.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 01.07.2019
Externally publishedYes

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