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PLoS Genet. 2013;9(1):e1003202. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003202. Epub 2013 Jan 17.

Mendelian and non-Mendelian regulation of gene expression in maize.

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Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States of America.


Transcriptome variation plays an important role in affecting the phenotype of an organism. However, an understanding of the underlying mechanisms regulating transcriptome variation in segregating populations is still largely unknown. We sought to assess and map variation in transcript abundance in maize shoot apices in the intermated B73 × Mo17 recombinant inbred line population. RNA-based sequencing (RNA-seq) allowed for the detection and quantification of the transcript abundance derived from 28,603 genes. For a majority of these genes, the population mean, coefficient of variation, and segregation patterns could be predicted by the parental expression levels. Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) mapping identified 30,774 eQTL including 96 trans-eQTL "hotspots," each of which regulates the expression of a large number of genes. Interestingly, genes regulated by a trans-eQTL hotspot tend to be enriched for a specific function or act in the same genetic pathway. Also, genomic structural variation appeared to contribute to cis-regulation of gene expression. Besides genes showing Mendelian inheritance in the RIL population, we also found genes whose expression level and variation in the progeny could not be predicted based on parental difference, indicating that non-Mendelian factors also contribute to expression variation. Specifically, we found 145 genes that show patterns of expression reminiscent of paramutation such that all the progeny had expression levels similar to one of the two parents. Furthermore, we identified another 210 genes that exhibited unexpected patterns of transcript presence/absence. Many of these genes are likely to be gene fragments resulting from transposition, and the presence/absence of their transcripts could influence expression levels of their ancestral syntenic genes. Overall, our results contribute to the identification of novel expression patterns and broaden the understanding of transcriptional variation in plants.

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