An atypical epigenetic mechanism affects uniparental expression of Pol IV-dependent siRNAs.

22 May 2018

BACKGROUND: Small RNAs generated by RNA polymerase IV (Pol IV) are the most abundant class of small RNAs in flowering plants. In Arabidopsis thaliana Pol IV-dependent short interfering (p4-si)RNAs are imprinted and accumulate specifically from maternal chromosomes in the developing seeds. Imprinted expression of protein-coding genes is controlled by differential DNA or histone methylation placed in gametes. To identify epigenetic factors required for maternal-specific expression of p4-siRNAs we analyzed the effect of a series of candidate mutations, including those required for genomic imprinting of protein-coding genes, on uniparental expression of a representative p4-siRNA locus. RESULTS: Paternal alleles of imprinted genes are marked by DNA or histone methylation placed by DNA METHYLTRANSFERASE 1 or the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2. Here we demonstrate that repression of paternal p4-siRNA expression at locus 08002 is not controlled by either of these mechanisms. Similarly, loss of several chromatin modification enzymes, including a histone acetyltransferase, a histone methyltransferase, and two nucleosome remodeling proteins, does not affect maternal expression of locus 08002. Maternal alleles of imprinted genes are hypomethylated by DEMETER DNA glycosylase, yet expression of p4-siRNAs occurs irrespective of demethylation by DEMETER or related glycosylases. CONCLUSIONS: Differential DNA methylation and other chromatin modifications associated with epigenetic silencing are not required for maternal-specific expression of p4-siRNAs at locus 08002. These data indicate that there is an as yet unknown epigenetic mechanism causing maternal-specific p4-siRNA expression that is distinct from the well-characterized mechanisms associated with DNA methylation or the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2.