The Conjugative Relaxase TrwC Promotes Integration of Foreign DNA in the Human Genome
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AuthorGonzález Prieto, Coral; Gabriel, Richard; Dehio, Christoph; Schmidt, Manfred; Llosa Blas, Matxalen
Bacterial conjugation is a mechanism of horizontal DNA transfer. The relaxase TrwC of the conjugative plasmid R388 cleaves one strand of the transferred DNA at the oriT gene, covalently attaches to it, and leads the single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) into the recipient cell. In addition, TrwC catalyzes site-specific integration of the transferred DNA into its target sequence present in the genome of the recipient bacterium. Here, we report the analysis of the efficiency and specificity of the integrase activity of TrwC in human cells, using the type IV secretion system of the human pathogen Bartonella henselae to introduce relaxase-DNA complexes. Compared to Mob relaxase from plasmid pBGR1, we found that TrwC mediated a 10-fold increase in the rate of plasmid DNA transfer to human cells and a 100-fold increase in the rate of chromosomal integration of the transferred DNA. We used linear amplification-mediated PCR and plasmid rescue to characterize the integration pattern in the human genome. DNA sequence analysis revealed mostly reconstituted oriT sequences, indicating that TrwC is active and recircularizes transferred DNA in human cells. One TrwC-mediated site-specific integration event was detected, proving that TrwC is capable of mediating site-specific integration in the human genome, albeit with very low efficiency compared to the rate of random integration. Our results suggest that TrwC may stabilize the plasmid DNA molecules in the nucleus of the human cell, probably by recircularization of the transferred DNA strand. This stabilization would increase the opportunities for integration of the DNA by the host machinery. IMPORTANCE Different biotechnological applications, including gene therapy strategies, require permanent modification of target cells. Long-term expression is achieved either by extrachromosomal persistence or by integration of the introduced DNA. Here, we studied the utility of conjugative relaxase TrwC, a bacterial protein with site-specific integrase activity in bacteria, as an integrase in human cells. Although it is not efficient as a site-specific integrase, we found that TrwC is active in human cells and promotes random integration of the transferred DNA in the human genome, probably acting as a DNA chaperone until it is integrated by host mechanisms. TrwC-DNA complexes can be delivered to human cells through a type IV secretion system involved in pathogenesis. Thus, TrwC could be used in vivo to transfer the DNA of interest into the appropriate cell and promote its integration. If used in combination with a site-specific nuclease, it could lead to site-specific integration of the incoming DNA by homologous recombination.