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Plant J. 2008 Apr;54(2):299-309. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-313X.2008.03413.x. Epub 2008 Jan 16.

Hypomethylation and hypermethylation of the tandem repetitive 5S rRNA genes in Arabidopsis.

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  • 1Unité Mixte de Recherche CNRS 6247 GReD, INSERM, Université Blaise Pascal, 24 Avenue des Landais, 63177 Aubière Cedex, France.


5S ribosomal DNA (5S rDNA) is organized in tandem repeats on chromosomes 3, 4 and 5 in Arabidopsis thaliana. One part of the 5S rDNA is located within the heterochromatic chromocenters, and the other fraction forms loops with euchromatic features that emanate from the chromocenters. We investigated whether the A. thaliana heterochromatin, and particularly the 5S rDNA, is modified when changing the culture conditions (cultivation in growth chamber versus greenhouse). Nuclei from challenged tissues displayed larger total, as well as 5S rDNA, heterochromatic fractions, and the DNA methyltransferase mutants met1 and cmt3 had different impacts in Arabidopsis. The enlarged fraction of heterochromatic 5S rDNA was observed, together with the reversal of the silencing of some 5S rRNA genes known as minor genes. We observed hypermethylation at CATG sites, and a concomitant DNA hypomethylation at CG/CXG sites in 5S rDNA. Our results show that the asymmetrical hypermethylation is correlated with the ageing of the plants, whereas hypomethylation results from the growth chamber/culture conditions. In spite of severely reduced DNA methylation, the met1 mutant revealed no increase in minor 5S rRNA transcripts in these conditions. The increasing proportion of cytosines in asymmetrical contexts during transition from the euchromatic to the heterochromatic state in the 5S rDNA array suggests that 5S rDNA units are differently affected by the (hypo and hyper)methylation patterns along the 5S rDNA locus. This might explain the different behaviour of 5S rDNA subpopulations inside a 5S array in terms of chromatin compaction and expression, i.e. some 5S rRNA genes would become derepressed, whereas others would join the heterochromatic fraction.

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