Avoidance of recognition sites of restriction-modification systems is a widespread but not universal anti-restriction strategy of prokaryotic viruses
Background. Restriction-modification (R-M) systems protect bacteria and archaea from attacks by bacteriophages and archaeal viruses. An R-M system specifically recognizes short sites in foreign DNA and cleaves it, while such sites in the host DNA are protected by methylation. Prokaryotic viruses have developed a number of strategies to overcome this host defense. The simplest anti-restriction strategy is the elimination of recognition sites in the viral genome: no sites, no DNA cleavage. Even a decrease of the number of recognition sites can help a virus to overcome this type of host defense. Recognition site avoidance has been a known anti-restriction strategy of prokaryotic viruses for decades. However, recognition site avoidance has not been systematically studied with the currently available sequence data. We analyzed the complete genomes of almost 4000 prokaryotic viruses with known host species and more than 17,000 restriction endonucleases with known specificities in terms of recognition site avoidance.
Results. We observed considerable limitations of recognition site avoidance as an anti-restriction strategy. Namely, the avoidance of recognition sites is specific for dsDNA and ssDNA prokaryotic viruses. Avoidance is much more pronounced in the genomes of non-temperate bacteriophages than in the genomes of temperate ones. Avoidance is not observed for the sites of Type I and Type IIG systems and is very rarely observed for the sites of Type III systems. The vast majority of avoidance cases concern recognition sites of orthodox Type II restriction-modification systems. Even under these constraints, complete or almost complete elimination of sites is observed for approximately one-tenth of viral genomes and a significant under-representation for approximately one-fourth of them.
Conclusions. Avoidance of recognition sites of restriction-modification systems is a widespread but not universal anti-restriction strategy of prokaryotic viruses.