Caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) is one of the most valued fungal Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and it contains plenty of active ingredients such as adenosine. Adenosine is considered as a biologically effective ingredient that has a variety of anti-tumor and immunomodulatory activities. In order to further elucidate the mechanism of purine nucleosidase (PN) in adenosine biosynthesis, a gene encoding PN was successfully mined and further analyzed based on the RNA-Seq database of caterpillar fungus. The full-length cDNA of PN was 855 bp, which encoded 284 amino acids. BLAST analysis showed the highest homology of 85.06% with nucleoside hydrolase in NCBI. ProtProm analysis showed that the relative molecular weight was 30.69 kDa and the isoelectric point was 11.55. The secondary structure of PN was predicted by Predict Protein; the results showed that alpha helix structure accounted for 28.17%, strand structure accounted for 11.97%, and loop structure accounted for 59.86%. Moreover, PN gene was further cloned from transcriptome and detected by agarose gel electrophoresis for verification. This study provides more sufficient scientific basis and new ideas for the genetic regulation of adenosine biosynthesis in fungal TCM.
Fungal Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has abundant species resources1,2. Caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) is a well-known fungal TCM and is regarded as a source of innovative drugs3,4. Caterpillar fungus is a worm and fungus combined mixture that is found on the Tibetan plateau in southwestern China, where Hirsutella sinensis is parasitic on the caterpillar body5. Currently, H. sinensis is reported as the only anamorph of caterpillar fungus according to molecular and morphological biology evidence6,7, and it has less associated toxicity and similar clinical efficacy compared to wild caterpillar fungus8. It was revealed that H. sinensis possesses a variety of biologically effective ingredients, such as nucleosides, polysaccharides, and ergosterols, with extensive pharmacological effects such as repairing a liver injury9,10,11. Adenosine is a typical active ingredient isolated from caterpillar fungus, and it is a kind of purine alkaloid12. Adenosine has a variety of biological activities: anti-tumor, antibacterial, and immunomodulatory activities13,14. Unfortunately, the biosynthetic mechanism of adenosine as well as the key genes involved is still unclear15,16.
Adenosine mainly shows its anti-tumor effect through immunosuppressive actions in the tumor microenvironment17. It was reported that adenosine showed immunosuppressive functions, which was critical to initiate tissue repair after injury and to protect tissues against excessive inflammation18,19. Moreover, it was demonstrated that adenosine-mediated repression of immunity could severely impair cancer immunosurveillance as well as promote tumor growth20. Thus, it is urgent to study the mechanism of adenosine biosynthesis for its wide application in anti-tumor.
It was reported that a complete view of expressed genes and their expression levels could be systematically conducted by next-generation sequencing of transcriptome21. Furthermore, transcriptome sequencing and analysis was applied to predict the genes involved in the biosynthetic pathway of the active ingredients, and further investigate the interaction of different biosynthetic pathways22. Purine nucleosidase (PN, EC 22.214.171.124) is a class of nucleosidase with substrate specificity for purine nucleosides, which can hydrolyze the glycoside bonds of purine nucleosides into sugars and bases23. It typically plays important roles in adenosine biosynthesis. It was reported that the biosynthetic pathway of adenosine in fungal TCM was predicted; qPCR and gene expression showed that the increased adenosine accumulation is a result of down-regulation of PN gene, indicating that the PN gene may play an important role in adenosine biosynthesis15. Therefore, the mechanism of PN in adenosine biosynthesis must be urgently clarified. However, the sequence information and protein structure of PN as well as other key genes involved in adenosine biosynthesis of fungal TCM have not been further studied.
In this study, a novel sequence of PN gene was mined from RNA-Seq data of caterpillar fungus and verified by gene cloning. Furthermore, the molecular characteristics and protein structure of PN were comprehensively analyzed, which could provide new directions and ideas for the gene regulation of adenosine biosynthesis.
NOTE: A strain of anamorph of caterpillar fungus (H. sinensis) was deposited in our laboratory. Escherichia coli DH5 were preserved by Shenzhen Hospital, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.
1. Preparing for RNA-Seq
- Harvesting of mycelia
- Prepare fermentation medium for fermentation of H. sinensis: powdered corn flour (1%), silkworm pupae (1.5%), yeast extract (0.5%), tryptone (1%), glucose (1.5%), bran (1.5%), dextrin (0.5%), KH2PO4 (0.02%) and MgSO4 (0.01%).
- Prepare inoculation by 10% fermentation medium for scale-up culture (add 10 mL medium per 100 mL medium). Conduct submerged fermentation by the condition of 16 °C on a rotary shaker at 150 rpm for 10 days.
- Asexually reproduce and harvest mycelia of the anamorph of caterpillar fungus for 10 days. Centrifuge the fermented medium and discard the supernatant after centrifugation. Suspend the mycelia by adding 100 mL of ultrapure water for 3 times and remove the supernatant by centrifugation. Grind the cleaned mycelia into a powder using liquid nitrogen.
- Extract total RNA of the anamorph of caterpillar fungus according to the manufacturer’s protocols (Table of Materials) and further treat the sample with RNase-free DNase I (Table of Materials).
- Isolate the mRNA from total RNA PolyATtract mRNA Isolation Systems, and isolate poly(A) mRNA using beads with oligo(dT) according to the manufacturer’s protocols (Table of Materials).
- Take the short fragments as templates to synthesize the first-strand cDNA by random hexamer-primers according to the manufacturer’s protocols (Table of Materials). Perform the synthesis of second-strand cDNA according to the manufacturer’s protocols.
- Subsequently, generate the sequencing libraries using the Ultra RNA Library Prep Kit according to the manufacturer’s protocols (Table of Materials).
- Purify short fragments by PCR extraction kit according to the manufacturer’s protocols (Table of Materials) and resolve it by EB buffer, respectively.
- Connect the short fragments (threshold of 300 bp) with sequencing adapters according to the result of agarose gel electrophoresis.
- Subsequently, conduct amplification with PCR using the templates selected from suitable fragments.
- Sequence the library by Illumina HiSeq 4000 with paired-end sequencing according to the manufacturer’s protocols. Filter dirty raw reads from the raw sequence data to obtain clean data. Adopt denovo assembly to get Unigenes with the least Ns that cannot be extended on either end.
- Align Unigene sequences by blastx to protein databases such as nr, Swiss-Prot, KEGG, and COG (e-value < 0.00001). Retrieve proteins with the highest sequence similarity with the given Unigenes along with their protein functional annotations. Summarize the RNA-Seq results (Table of Materials).
NOTE: Commercial kits were used in the above steps, and all operations were done according to the manufacturer's protocol.
2. Gene mining of purine nucleosidase
- Download the files of RNA-Seq results on the computer. Find the annotation result files of assembled Unigenes from the RNA-Seq results.
NOTE: Paired-end reads were used again for gap filling of scaffolds to obtain sequences with least Ns that cannot be extended on either end. Such sequences were defined as Unigenes. Unigene annotation provides information of expression and functional annotation of Unigene.
- Open the Annotation Files path and enter map 00230 in the search bar; then search purine metabolism (map00230) in the KEGG classification of annotation files.
- Mark EC:126.96.36.199 (PN) red in the annotated map00230 and indicate that there were assembled Unigenes that have been annotated to PN.
NOTE: There were three Unigenes (Unigene10777, Unigene14697, and Unigene17827) annotated to PN after clicking on the EC number 188.8.131.52 and shown in the annotated map00230.
- Click on EC number 184.108.40.206 and show the annotated Unigenes information.
- Open the LTFViewer software and import Unigene.fa file with a Ctrl-O shortcut and show the sequence information of assembled Unigenes.
- Search for sequence information of Unigene10777, Unigene14697, and Unigene17827 with a Ctrl-F shortcut.
- Download the sequence information of Unigene10777, Unigene14697, and Unigene17827 with Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V shortcuts.
- Eliminate Unigene10777 and Unigene17827 with excessively short sequences of open reading frame (ORF).
NOTE: Basic sequence information was displayed in LTFViewer software.
- Select Unigene14697 (size 1,705 bp, gap 0 0%) with suitable length of ORF for further study.
3. Bioinformatic analysis
- Analyze the ORF of PN gene by ORFfinder (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/orffinder/).
- Paste the sequence into the box. Choose parameters as follows, minimal ORF length (nt): 75, genetic Code: 1. standard, ORF start codon to use: ATG only. Click on the Submit button to obtain the ORF information.
- Use the ProtParam tool (http://us.expasy.org/tools/protparam.html) to calculate the theoretical molecular mass and isoelectric point.
- Paste the amino acid sequence (in one-letter code) into the box and click on the Compute Parameters button to obtain the results.
- Apply SignalP5.0 Server (http://www.cbs.dtu.dk/services/SignalP/) to predict the signal peptides.
- Enter protein sequences in FASTA format. Choose parameters as follows, organism group: Eukarya, output format: Long output. Click on the Submit button to obtain the results.
- Apply BLAST (https://blast.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Blast.cgi) to analyze the homology of protein sequences.
- Click on the Protein Blast button and enter the sequence into the box. Choose parameters as follows, database: Non-redundant protein sequences (nr), algorithm: blastp (protein-protein BLAST). Click on the Blast button to obtain the results.
- Apply Clustal X program (http://www.clustal.org/) to align the acid sequences of PN from different fungi.
- Upload a file or paste the sequences into the box. Set the parameters as follows, output format: ClustalW with character counts. Click on the Submit button to obtain the results. Clustal X can only recognize files in the FASTA format, and the path of files can only include English names.
- Use MEGA 4.0 (https://www.megasoftware.net/mega4/) to conduct the phylogenetic tree.
- Open the software and click on the File button to upload the sequences. Select the data type as Protein Sequences, click on the OK button to proceed to the next step. Subsequently, click on the Phylogeny button and select Bootstrap Test Phylogeny, and then click on Neighbor Joining Tree. Select the default parameters and click on the Compute button to obtain the results.
- Apply InterProScan (http://www.ebi.ac.uk/interpro/search/sequence/) to identify the catalytic domain of PN.
- Enter the sequence into the box. Select the default parameters and click on the Search button to obtain the results.
- Apply Predict Protein (http://www.predictprotein.org/) online to predict the protein secondary structure.
- Enter an amino-acid sequence (one letter code) into the box, and then click on the predictProtein button to obtain the results.
- Apply Online tools SWISS-MODEL (http://swissmodel.expasy.org/) to evaluate the three-dimensional structure of PN24.
- Click on the Start Modeling button and paste the target sequence into the box. Fill in the Project Title and Email information and click on the Search for Templates button to obtain the results.
4. Gene cloning and construction of recombinant plasmid
- Design primers whose reverse primer contained a NotI site and the forward primer had an EcoRI site.
- Show the forward primer as: AGAGAATTCATGACCATGCCAGATTCT (5’–3’), and the reverse primer as: ATAGCGGCCGCCTAACGCGTGCCGTTAGA (5’–3’) by Primer Express.
- Prepare the primers as well as the cDNA of caterpillar fungus for cloning of PN gene. Conduct PCR as follows: pre-denaturation at 95 °C for 5 min, denaturation at 94 °C for 45 s, renaturation at 55 °C for 60 s, extension at 72 °C for 90 s, repeat for 35 cycles, and extension at 72 °C for 10 min.
- Obtain the PCR fragments and detect it by agarose gel electrophoresis for verification. Ligate the PCR fragments with pMD18-T. Conduct ligation system of PMD18-T as follows: 1 μL PMD18-T, 4 μL Solution1, and 5 μL Target gene. Set the conditions as follows: maintaining at 16 °C for 16 h, inactivation at 65 °C for 15 min.
- Transfer the recombinant plasmids to the competent E. coli JM109 cells according to the operation manual25.
- Digest the recombinant pMD18-T/PN plasmids and vector ppic9K with EcoRI and NotI. Ligate the fragments after digestion by T4 DNA ligase.
- Construct the recombinant plasmid ppic9K/PN for further heterologous expression.
The ORF sequence of PN gene was 855 bp in length, which encoded 284 amino acids with a calculated molecular mass of 30.69 kDa and a predicted isoelectric point of 11.55, indicating that PN is an alkaline protein. Application of SignalP4.0 Server was conducted to identify signal peptide, and the results indicated that PN has no signal peptides. Moreover, the results of BLASTP search indicated that PN originated from caterpillar fungus shared the highest identity (85.06%, E value = 1e-88) with nucleoside hydrolase from Purpureocillium lilacinum (OAQ81830.1). Furthermore, the ClustalX program was applied to perform multiple sequence alignment of PN and the results were shown in Figure 1, which revealed that 11–166 amino acids were the conserved amino acid sequences of inosine/uridine hydrolase domain. Subsequently, the result of phylogenetic tree showed that PN from caterpillar fungus shared the closest phylogenetic relationship with other nucleoside hydrolase from entomogenous fungus such as Purpureocillium lilacinum (OAA82129.1, XP 018708456.1) based on the amino acid sequences similarity (Figure 2). Meanwhile, the analysis result of InterPro Scan revealed that PN had a catalytic domain of inosine/uridine-preferring nucleoside hydrolase (IPR023186).
Subsequently, PN protein secondary structure was predicted by Predict Protein, the results were shown in Figure 3, indicating that alpha helix structure accounted for 28.17%, strand structure accounted for 11.97%, and loop structure accounted for 59.86%. The tertiary structure of PN protein was constructed by Swiss-model simulation (Figure 4), and the results were similar to the ones predicted by Predict Protein. According to CDS online analysis software, PN belongs to nucleoside hydrolase family and catalyzes the hydrolysis of all of the commonly occurring purine and pyrimidine nucleosides into ribose and the associated base but has a preference for inosine and uridine as substrates.
The ORF of PN gene was amplified by PCR; the PCR products were detected by agarose gel electrophoresis (Figure 5). The results indicated that PCR products with the correct sizes were successfully amplified.
Figure 1: Multiple alignment of amino acid sequences for PN from fungal TCM and other nucleoside hydrolases. The sequences were those from Trichoderma guizhouense (OPB46800.1), Purpureocillium lilacinum (OAQ81830.1), and Purpureocillium lilacinum (XP_018180602.1). Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.
Figure 2: Phylogenetic tree of PN showing the relationship with other species on amino acid sequences of nucleoside hydrolase. Phylogenetic tree was constructed with MEGA 4.0 with the method Neighbor-Joining. Test of inferred phylogeny was Bootstrap for 1,000 replications. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.
Figure 3: Prediction of secondary structure for PN. Blue stands for strand, and dark red stands for helix. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.
Figure 4: The tertiary structure of PN protein predicted by Swiss-model. The family type of PN belongs to inosine/uridine-preferring nucleoside hydrolase, which has a preference for inosine and uridine as substrates. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.
Figure 5: Agarose gel electrophoresis of PN gene cloned from the transcriptome of caterpillar fungus. Lane M: Trans2K Plus II DNA Marker; lane 1, PCR products of PN gene. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.
Human health is facing a series of major medical problems such as tumor, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular diseases26,27. TCM has been regarded as the source of research and development of innovative medicine, because of its rich species resources and diverse structure and functions of active ingredients28,29. Caterpillar fungus is a fungal parasite on the larvae of Lepidoptera, and it is an invigorant in Chinese tradition and considered as one of the best invigorants with Panax and Pilose antlers30. A variety of active ingredients such as adenosine, sterols, nucleosides, terpenes, and peptides can be extracted from TCM29,31. The active ingredients have a variety of physiological activities and structural types, and can be used as a source for the research and application of innovative drugs32.
So far, there were many reports on the pharmacological effects of adenosine. However, the studies on the adenosine biosynthesis as well as the genes involved in were few16,33. Nevertheless, KEGG annotation of functional genes in Cordyceps militaris was carried out, and biosynthetic pathway of adenosine was speculated; it was found that 5'-nucleotidase may be a key gene in adenosine biosynthesis33. Other studies speculated the biosynthetic pathway of adenosine; it was indicated that adenosine kinase and 5'-nucleotidase genes were involved in the phosphorylation as well as dephosphorylation processes in metabolic pathway of adenosine34,35. In addition, the biosynthetic pathway of adenosine in fungal TCM was predicted; PN gene was proved to play an important role in adenosine biosynthesis since down-regulation of PN gene was consistent with adenosine accumulation15. Unfortunately, the key genes involved in adenosine biosynthesis were lacking in-depth mining and analysis. Therefore, it is urgent to conduct the study of gene mining and sequence analysis of the key genes involved in adenosine biosynthesis.
Generally, the development of biotechnology requires more and more genetic resources36. Compared to traditional methods of gene mining, including microbial screening for obtaining genetic resources by molecular biological37, metagenomic techniques for mining new genetic resources38, and cloning of natural protein sequence after purification39, the protocol of gene mining applied in this study is more efficient and accurate. Furthermore, the focus of this paper is on how to perform gene mining and sequence analysis of functional enzyme involved in biosynthesis of active ingredients based on RNA-Seq. This protocol could be very helpful to study the biosynthesis mechanism of other active ingredients of TCM. At the same time, other researchers could also refer to this protocol to mine functional proteins with research value and conduct in-depth research on them. However, this protocol also has some limitations. Firstly, gene mining relies on annotated RNA-Seq data, and RNA-Seq appears to be somewhat costly. Secondly, the results of sequence analysis based on bioinformatics analysis are predictive and need to be further verified by experiments.
In conclusion, the protocol of gene mining and sequence analysis provided an important theoretical basis to study the mechanism of adenosine biosynthesis, as well as the key role of PN in adenosine biosynthesis. Taken collectively, this study also would provide a more adequate scientific basis for gene regulation of adenosine biosynthesis and provide a new idea for promoting the modern industrial development of active ingredients in TCM.
The authors report no conflicts of interest.
This study was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (31871244, 81973733, 81803652), Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province (2019A1515011555, 2018A0303100007), Shenzhen Foundation of Health and Family Planning Commission (SZBC2018016), Special Fund for Economic and Technological Development of Longgang District of Shenzhen City (LGKCYLWS2020064, LGKCYLWS2019000361).
|RNase-free DNase I||TaKaRa||2270B|
|PolyATtract mRNA Isolation Systems||Promega||III|
|Random hexamer-primers||Thermo Scientific||SO142|
|NEBNext1 Ultra RNA Library Prep Kit||NEB||E7530S|
|PCR extraction kit||QiaQuick|
|High-throughput sequencer||Illumina||HiSeq™ 4,000|
|ProtParam tool||SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics|
|SignalP Server||DTU Health Tech||5.0|
|Clustal X program||UCD Dublin|
|MEGA||Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics||4.0|
|InterProScan||European Molecular Biology Laboratory|
|Predict Protein||Technical University of Munich|
|WISS-MODEL||Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics|
|Primer Express||Applied Biosystems||3.0|
|Trans2K® Plus II DNA Marker||Sigma-Aldrich||BM121-01|
|6×DNA Loading Buffer||Sigma-Aldrich||GH101-01|
|50 x TAE||Sigma-Aldrich||T1060|
|Gel imaginganalysis system||Syngene||G:BOX F3|
|E. coli JM109||Promega|
|T4 DNA ligase||EarthOx||BE004A-02|
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