Trichloroethylene-induced alterations in DNA methylation were enriched in polycomb protein binding sites in effector/memory CD4+ T cells
Exposure to industrial solvent and water pollutant trichloroethylene (TCE) can promote autoimmunity, and expand effector/memory (CD62L) CD4+ T cells. In order to better understand etiology reduced representation bisulfite sequencing was used to study how a 40-week exposure to TCE in drinking water altered methylation of ∼337 770 CpG sites across the entire genome of effector/memory CD4+ T cells from MRL+/+ mice. Regardless of TCE exposure, 62% of CpG sites in autosomal chromosomes were hypomethylated (0-15% methylation), and 25% were hypermethylated (85-100% methylation). In contrast, only 6% of the CpGs on the X chromosome were hypomethylated, and 51% had mid-range methylation levels. In terms of TCE impact, TCE altered (≥ 10%) the methylation of 233 CpG sites in effector/memory CD4+ T cells. Approximately 31.7% of these differentially methylated sites occurred in regions known to bind one or more Polycomb group (PcG) proteins, namely Ezh2, Suz12, Mtf2 or Jarid2. In comparison, only 23.3% of CpG sites not differentially methylated by TCE were found in PcG protein binding regions. Transcriptomics revealed that TCE altered the expression of ∼560 genes in the same effector/memory CD4+ T cells. At least 80% of the immune genes altered by TCE had binding sites for PcG proteins flanking their transcription start site, or were regulated by other transcription factors that were in turn ordered by PcG proteins at their own transcription start site. Thus, PcG proteins, and the differential methylation of their binding sites, may represent a new mechanism by which TCE could alter the function of effector/memory CD4+ T cells.