The symbiotic relationship between cnidarians and dinoflagellates is one of the most widespread endosymbiosis in our oceans and provides the ecological basis of coral reef ecosystems. Although many studies have been undertaken to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying these symbioses, we still know little about the epigenetic mechanisms that control the transcriptional responses to symbiosis.
Here, we used the model organism Exaiptasia diaphana to study the genome-wide patterns and putative functions of the histone modifications H3K27ac, H3K4me3, H3K9ac, H3K36me3, and H3K27me3 in symbiosis. While we find that their functions are generally conserved, we observed that colocalization of more than one modification and or DNA methylation correlated with significantly higher gene expression, suggesting a cooperative action of histone modifications and DNA methylation in promoting gene expression. Analysis of symbiosis genes revealed that activating histone modifications predominantly associated with symbiosis-induced genes involved in glucose metabolism, nitrogen transport, amino acid biosynthesis, and organism growth while symbiosis-suppressed genes were involved in catabolic processes.
Our results provide new insights into the mechanisms of prominent histone modifications and their interaction with DNA methylation in regulating symbiosis in cnidarians.