Microvesicle-Mediated Transfer of DNA Methyltransferase Proteins Results in Recipient Cell Immunosuppression

Published:November 22, 2022DOI:



      Patients with sepsis exhibit significant, persistent immunologic dysfunction. Evidence supports the hypothesis that epigenetic regulation of key cytokines plays an important role in this dysfunction. In sepsis, circulating microvesicles (MVs) containing elevated levels of DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) mRNA cause gene methylation and silencing in recipient cells. We sought to examine the functional role of MV DNMT proteins in this immunologic dysfunction.


      In total, 33 patients were enrolled within 24 h of sepsis diagnosis (23 sepsis, 10 critically ill controls). Blood and MVs were collected on days 1, 3, and 5 of sepsis, and protein was isolated from the MVs. Levels of DNMT protein and activity were quantified. MVs were produced in vitro by stimulating naïve monocytes with lipopolysaccharide. Methylation was assessed using bisulfate site-specific qualitative real-time polymerase chain reaction.


      The size of MVs in the patients with sepsis decreased from days 1 to 5 compared to the control group. Circulating MVs contained significantly higher levels of DNMT 1 and 3A, protein. We recapitulated the production of these DNMT-containing MVs in vitro by treating monocytes with lipopolysaccharide. We found that exposing naïve monocytes to these MVs resulted in increased promoter methylation of tumor necrosis factor alpha.


      An analysis of the isolated MVs revealed higher levels of DNMT proteins in septic patients than those in nonseptic patients. Exposing naïve monocytes to DNMT-containing MVs produced in vitro resulted in hypermethylation of tumor necrosis factor alpha, a key cytokine implicated in postsepsis immunosuppression. These results suggest that DNMT-containing MVs cause epigenetic changes in recipient cells. This study highlights a novel role for MVs in the immune dysfunction of patients with sepsis.


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