15 August, 2018
The symbiotic relationship between cnidarians and dinoflagellates is the cornerstone of coral reef ecosystems. Although research has focused on the molecular mechanisms underlying this symbiosis, the role of epigenetic mechanisms, that is, the study of heritable changes that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence, is unknown. To assess the role of DNA methylation in the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis, we analyzed genome-wide CpG methylation, histone associations, and transcriptomic states of symbiotic and aposymbiotic anemones in the model system Aiptasia. We found that methylated genes are marked by histone 3 lysine 36 trimethylation (H3K36me3) and show significant reduction of spurious transcription and transcriptional noise, revealing a role of DNA methylation in the maintenance of transcriptional homeostasis. Changes in DNA methylation and expression show enrichment for symbiosis-related processes, such as immunity, apoptosis, phagocytosis recognition, and phagosome formation, and reveal intricate interactions between the underlying pathways. Our results demonstrate that DNA methylation provides an epigenetic mechanism of transcriptional homeostasis that responds to symbiosis.