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Plant J. 2003 Mar;33(6):1013-25.

Initiation of silencing of maize MuDR/Mu transposable elements.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, 385 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA.


Homology-dependent gene silencing contributes to genomic stability through suppression of transposable elements. Co-ordinate epigenetic silencing is the main regulatory mechanism controlling dispersed, multicopy MuDR/Mu elements responsible for Mutator activity in maize. Silencing eliminates transposition and proceeds through transcriptional inactivation of MuDR genes and DNA methylation of the terminal inverted repeats (TIRs) in both the regulatory MuDR and non-autonomous Mu elements. In plants with active MuDR/Mu elements, initiation of silencing coincides with nuclear retention of non-polyadenylated RNA derived from MuDR and recently described MuDR homologs (hMuDR elements). Nuclear accumulation of MuDR/hMuDR RNA is developmentally progressive, paralleling loss of Mutator activity and is predictive of loss of Mu somatic excision in the progeny. A high ratio of nuclear to cytoplasmic RNA is the earliest molecular marker for MuDR silencing suggesting that the nuclear RNA may trigger transcriptional silencing. We also demonstrate the constitutive presence of small transposon-specific RNAs of 21-26 nucleotides in all maize lines tested, independent of the Mutator activity. The role of the small RNAs in transposon silencing and translational regulation of transposon-encoded proteins is discussed.

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