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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Apr 26, 1994; 91(9): 3490–3496.

Inactivation of gene expression in plants as a consequence of specific sequence duplication.


Numerous examples now exist in plants where the insertion of multiple copies of a transgene leads to loss of expression of some or all copies of the transgene. Where the transgene contains sequences homologous to an endogenous gene, expression of both transgene and endogenous gene is sometimes found to be impaired. Several examples of these phenomena displaying different features are reviewed. Possible explanations for the observed phenomena are outlined, drawing on known cellular processes in Drosophila, fungi, and mammals as well as plants. It is hypothesized that duplicated sequences can, under certain circumstances, become involved in cycles of hybrid chromatin formation or other processes that generate the potential for modification of inherited chromatin structure and cytosine methylation patterns. These epigenetic changes could lead to altered transcription rates or altered efficiencies of mRNA maturation and export from the nucleus. Where the loss of gene expression is posttranscriptional, antisense RNA could be formed on accumulated, inefficiently processed RNAs by an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase or from a chromosomal promoter and cause the observed loss of homologous mRNAs and possibly the modification of homologous genes. It is suggested that the mechanisms evolved to help silence the many copies of transposable elements in plants. Multicopy genes that are part of the normal gene catalog of a plant species must have evolved to avoid these silencing mechanisms or their consequences.

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