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PLoS Genet. 2008 Apr 4;4(4):e1000048. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000048.

Evolution and control of imprinted FWA genes in the genus Arabidopsis.

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Department of Integrated Genetics, National Institute of Genetics, Mishima, Shizuoka, Japan.


A central question in genomic imprinting is how a specific sequence is recognized as the target for epigenetic marking. In both mammals and plants, imprinted genes are often associated with tandem repeats and transposon-related sequences, but the role of these elements in epigenetic gene silencing remains elusive. FWA is an imprinted gene in Arabidopsis thaliana expressed specifically in the female gametophyte and endosperm. Tissue-specific and imprinted expression of FWA depends on DNA methylation in the FWA promoter, which is comprised of two direct repeats containing a sequence related to a SINE retroelement. Methylation of this element causes epigenetic silencing, but it is not known whether the methylation is targeted to the SINE-related sequence itself or the direct repeat structure is also necessary. Here we show that the repeat structure in the FWA promoter is highly diverse in species within the genus Arabidopsis. Four independent tandem repeat formation events were found in three closely related species. Another related species, A. halleri, did not have a tandem repeat in the FWA promoter. Unexpectedly, even in this species, FWA expression was imprinted and the FWA promoter was methylated. In addition, our expression analysis of FWA gene in vegetative tissues revealed high frequency of intra-specific variation in the expression level. In conclusion, we show that the tandem repeat structure is dispensable for the epigenetic silencing of the FWA gene. Rather, SINE-related sequence is sufficient for imprinting, vegetative silencing, and targeting of DNA methylation. Frequent independent tandem repeat formation events in the FWA promoter led us to propose that they may be a consequence, rather than cause, of the epigenetic control. The possible significance of epigenetic variation in reproductive strategies during evolution is also discussed.

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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