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Curr Biol. 2003 Apr 15;13(8):627-37.

ATX-1, an Arabidopsis homolog of trithorax, activates flower homeotic genes.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588-0118, USA.



The genes of the trithorax (trxG) and Polycomb groups (PcG) are best known for their regulatory functions in Drosophila, where they control homeotic gene expression. Plants and animals are thought to have evolved multicellularity independently. Although homeotic genes control organ identity in both animals and plants, they are unrelated. Despite this fact, several plant homeotic genes are negatively regulated by plant genes similar to the repressors from the animal PcG. However, plant-activating regulators of the trxG have not been characterized.


We provide genetic, molecular, functional, and biochemical evidence that an Arabidopsis gene, ATX1, which is similar to the Drosophila trx, regulates floral organ development. The effects are specific: structurally and functionally related flower homeotic genes are under different control. We show that ATX1 is an epigenetic regulator with histone H3K4 methyltransferase activity. This is the first example of this kind of enzyme activity reported in plants, and, in contrast to the Drosophila and the yeast trithorax homologs, ATX1 can methylate in the absence of additional proteins. In its ability to methylate H3K4 as a recombinant protein, ATX1 is similar to the human homolog.


ATX1 functions as an activator of homeotic genes, like Trithorax in animal systems. The histone methylating activity of the ATX1-SET domain argues that the molecular basis of these effects is the ability of ATX1 to modify chromatin structure. Our results suggest a conservation of trxG function between the animal and plant kingdoms despite the different structural nature of their targets.

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