Background: Cadmium (Cd)-containing chemicals can cause serious damage to biological systems. In animals and plants, Cd exposure can lead to metabolic disorders or death. However, for the most part the effects of Cd on specific biological processes are not known. DNA methylation is an important mechanism for the regulation of gene expression. In this study we examined the effects of Cd exposure on global DNA methylation in a living organism by whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (WGBS) using Drosophila melanogaster as model.
Results: A total of 71 differentially methylated regions and 63 differentially methylated genes (DMGs) were identified by WGBS. A total of 39 genes were demethylated in the Cd treatment group but not in the control group, whereas 24 showed increased methylation in the former relative to the latter. In most cases, demethylation activated gene expression: genes such as Cdc42 and Mekk1 were upregulated as a result of demethylation. There were 37 DMGs that overlapped with differentially expressed genes from the digital expression library including baz, Act5C, and ss, which are associated with development, reproduction, and energy metabolism.
Conclusions: DNA methylation actively regulates the physiological response to heavy metal stress in Drosophila in part via activation of apoptosis.