Forestan, C., Farinati, S., Cigliano, R. A., Lunardon, A., Sanseverino, W., & Varotto, S.
Background: RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) is a plant-specific epigenetic process that relies on the RNA polymerase IV (Pol IV) for the production of 24 nucleotide small interfering RNAs (siRNA) that guide the cytosine methylation and silencing of genes and transposons. Zea mays RPD1/RMR6 gene encodes the largest subunit of Pol IV and is required for normal plant development, paramutation, transcriptional repression of certain transposable elements (TEs) and transcriptional regulation of specific alleles.
Results: In this study we applied a total RNA-Seq approach to compare the B73 and rpd1/rmr6 leaf transcriptomes. Although previous studies indicated that loss of siRNAs production in RdDM mutants provokes a strong loss of CHH DNA methylation but not massive gene or TEs transcriptional activation in both Arabidopsis and maize, our total RNA-Seq analysis of rpd1/rmr6 transcriptome reveals that loss of Pol IV activity causes a global increase in the transcribed fraction of the maize genome. Our results point to the genes with nearby TE insertions as being the most strongly affected by Pol IV-mediated gene silencing. TEs modulation of nearby gene expression is linked to alternative methylation profiles on gene flanking regions, and these profiles are strictly dependent on specific characteristics of the TE member inserted. Although Pol IV is essential for the biogenesis of siRNAs, the genes with associated siRNA loci are less affected by the pol IV mutation.
Conclusions: This deep and integrated analysis of gene expression, TEs distribution, smallRNA targeting and DNA methylation levels, reveals that loss of Pol IV activity globally affects genome regulation, pointing at TEs as modulator of nearby gene expression and indicating the existence of multiple level epigenetic silencing mechanisms. Our results also suggest a predominant role of the Pol IV-mediated RdDM pathway in genome dominance regulation, and subgenome stability and evolution in maize.