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1.  Heat-Induced Release of Epigenetic Silencing Reveals the Concealed Role of an Imprinted Plant Gene 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(11):e1004806.
Epigenetic mechanisms suppress the transcription of transposons and DNA repeats; however, this suppression can be transiently released under prolonged heat stress. Here we show that the Arabidopsis thaliana imprinted gene SDC, which is silent during vegetative growth due to DNA methylation, is activated by heat and contributes to recovery from stress. SDC activation seems to involve epigenetic mechanisms but not canonical heat-shock perception and signaling. The heat-mediated transcriptional induction of SDC occurs particularly in young developing leaves and is proportional to the level of stress. However, this occurs only above a certain window of absolute temperatures and, thus, resembles a thermal-sensing mechanism. In addition, the re-silencing kinetics during recovery can be entrained by repeated heat stress cycles, suggesting that epigenetic regulation in plants may conserve memory of stress experience. We further demonstrate that SDC contributes to the recovery of plant biomass after stress. We propose that transcriptional gene silencing, known to be involved in gene imprinting, is also co-opted in the specific tuning of SDC expression upon heat stress and subsequent recovery. It is therefore possible that dynamic properties of the epigenetic landscape associated with silenced or imprinted genes may contribute to regulation of their expression in response to environmental challenges.
Author Summary
In plants, expression of certain imprinted genes is restricted to embryo nourishing tissue, the endosperm. Since these genes are silenced by epigenetic mechanisms during vegetative growth, it has been assumed that they have no role in this phase of the plant life cycle. Here, we report on heat-mediated release of epigenetic silencing and ectopic activation of the Arabidopsis thaliana endosperm-imprinted gene SDC. The stress induced activation of SDC involves epigenetic regulation but not the canonical heat-shock perception and signaling, and it seems to be required for efficient growth recovery after the stress. Our results exemplify a potential concealed role of an imprinted gene in plant responses to environmental challenges.
PMCID: PMC4238952  PMID: 25411840
2.  Expression, crystallization and preliminary X-ray diffraction analysis of the CMM2 region of the Arabidopsis thaliana Morpheus’ molecule 1 protein 
In order to investigate its function in transcriptional gene silencing, the highly conserved motif 2 from A. thaliana Morpheus’ molecule 1 protein was expressed, purified and crystallized. X-ray diffraction analysis is reported to a resolution of 3.2 Å.
Of the known epigenetic control regulators found in plants, the Morpheus’ molecule 1 (MOM1) protein is atypical in that the deletion of MOM1 does not affect the level of epigenetic marks controlling the transcriptional status of the genome. A short 197-amino-acid fragment of the MOM1 protein sequence can complement MOM1 deletion when coupled to a nuclear localization signal, suggesting that this region contains a functional domain that compensates for the loss of the full-length protein. Numerous constructs centred on the highly conserved MOM1 motif 2 (CMM2) present in these 197 residues have been generated and expressed in Escherichia coli. Following purification and crystallization screening, diamond-shaped single crystals were obtained that diffracted to ∼3.2 Å resolution. They belonged to the trigonal space group P3121 (or P3221), with unit-cell parameters a = 85.64, c = 292.74 Å. Structure determination is ongoing.
PMCID: PMC2917290  PMID: 20693667
Morpheus’ molecule 1; conserved MOM1 motif 2; coiled-coil domain; epigenetic; transcriptional gene silencing
3.  Structural Basis of Transcriptional Gene Silencing Mediated by Arabidopsis MOM1 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(2):e1002484.
Shifts between epigenetic states of transcriptional activity are typically correlated with changes in epigenetic marks. However, exceptions to this rule suggest the existence of additional, as yet uncharacterized, layers of epigenetic regulation. MOM1, a protein of 2,001 amino acids that acts as a transcriptional silencer, represents such an exception. Here we define the 82 amino acid domain called CMM2 (Conserved MOM1 Motif 2) as a minimal MOM1 fragment capable of transcriptional regulation. As determined by X-ray crystallography, this motif folds into an unusual hendecad-based coiled-coil. Structure-based mutagenesis followed by transgenic complementation tests in plants demonstrate that CMM2 and its dimerization are effective for transcriptional suppression at chromosomal loci co-regulated by MOM1 and the siRNA pathway but not at loci controlled by MOM1 in an siRNA–independent fashion. These results reveal a surprising separation of epigenetic activities that enable the single, large MOM1 protein to coordinate cooperating mechanisms of epigenetic regulation.
Author Summary
Epigenetic shifts in transcriptional activities are usually correlated with changes in chromatin properties and covalent modification of DNA and/or histones. There are, however, exceptional regulators that are able to switch epigenetic states without the apparent involvement of changes in chromatin or DNA modifications. MOM1 protein, derived from CHD3 chromatin remodelers, belongs to this group. Here we defined a very small domain of MOM1 (less than 5% of its total sequence) that is sufficient for epigenetic regulation. We solved the structure of this domain and found that it forms a dimer with each monomer consisting of unusual consecutive 11 amino-acid hendecad repeats folding into an antiparallel coiled-coil. In vivo experiments demonstrated that the formation of this coiled-coil is essential for silencing activity; however, it is effective only at loci co-silenced by MOM1 and small RNAs. At loci not controlled by small RNAs, the entire MOM1 protein is required. Our results demonstrate that a single epigenetic regulator is able to differentially use its domains to control diverse chromosomal targets. The acquisition of the coiled-coil domain of MOM1 reflects a neofunctionalization of CHD3 proteins, which allowed MOM1 to broaden its activity and to provide input into multiple epigenetic pathways.
PMCID: PMC3276543  PMID: 22346760
4.  Stress-Induced Activation of Heterochromatic Transcription 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001175.
Constitutive heterochromatin comprising the centromeric and telomeric parts of chromosomes includes DNA marked by high levels of methylation associated with histones modified by repressive marks. These epigenetic modifications silence transcription and ensure stable inheritance of this inert state. Although environmental cues can alter epigenetic marks and lead to modulation of the transcription of genes located in euchromatic parts of the chromosomes, there is no evidence that external stimuli can globally destabilize silencing of constitutive heterochromatin. We have found that heterochromatin-associated silencing in Arabidopsis plants subjected to a particular temperature regime is released in a genome-wide manner. This occurs without alteration of repressive epigenetic modifications and does not involve common epigenetic mechanisms. Such induced release of silencing is mostly transient, and rapid restoration of the silent state occurs without the involvement of factors known to be required for silencing initiation. Thus, our results reveal new regulatory aspects of transcriptional repression in constitutive heterochromatin and open up possibilities to identify the molecular mechanisms involved.
Author Summary
In eukaryotic cells, DNA is packaged into chromatin that is present in two different forms named euchromatin and heterochromatin. Gene-rich euchromatin is relaxed and permissive to transcription compared with heterochromatin that essentially contains transcriptionally inert non-coding repeated DNA. The silent state associated with heterochromatin correlates with the presence of distinctive repressive epigenetic modifications. Mutations in genes required for maintenance of these epigenetic marks reactivate heterochromatin transcription, which is otherwise maintained silent in a highly stable manner. In this paper, we defined a specific temperature stress that leads to genome-wide transcriptional activation of sequences located within heterochromatin of Arabidopsis thaliana. Unexpectedly, release of silencing occurs in spite of conservation of the repressive epigenetic marks and independently of common epigenetic regulators. In addition, we provide evidence that stress-induced transcriptional activation is mostly transient, and silencing is rapidly restored upon return to optimal growth conditions. These results are important in that they disclose the dynamics of silencing associated with heterochromatin as well as the existence of a new level of transcriptional control that might play a role in plant acclimation to changing environmental conditions.
PMCID: PMC2965753  PMID: 21060865
5.  Divergent Evolution of CHD3 Proteins Resulted in MOM1 Refining Epigenetic Control in Vascular Plants 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(8):e1000165.
Arabidopsis MOM1 is required for the heritable maintenance of transcriptional gene silencing (TGS). Unlike many other silencing factors, depletion of MOM1 evokes transcription at selected loci without major changes in DNA methylation or histone modification. These loci retain unusual, bivalent chromatin properties, intermediate to both euchromatin and heterochromatin. The structure of MOM1 previously suggested an integral nuclear membrane protein with chromatin-remodeling and actin-binding activities. Unexpected results presented here challenge these presumed MOM1 activities and demonstrate that less than 13% of MOM1 sequence is necessary and sufficient for TGS maintenance. This active sequence encompasses a novel Conserved MOM1 Motif 2 (CMM2). The high conservation suggests that CMM2 has been the subject of strong evolutionary pressure. The replacement of Arabidopsis CMM2 by a poplar motif reveals its functional conservation. Interspecies comparison suggests that MOM1 proteins emerged at the origin of vascular plants through neo-functionalization of the ubiquitous eukaryotic CHD3 chromatin remodeling factors. Interestingly, despite the divergent evolution of CHD3 and MOM1, we observed functional cooperation in epigenetic control involving unrelated protein motifs and thus probably diverse mechanisms.
Author Summary
Epigenetic regulation of transcription usually involves changes in histone modifications, as well as DNA methylation changes in plants and mammals. Previously, we found an exceptional epigenetic regulator in Arabidopsis, MOM1, acting independently of these epigenetic marks. Interestingly, MOM1 controls loci associated with bivalent chromatin marks, intermediate to active euchromatin and silent heterochromatin. Such bivalent marks are often associated with newly inserted and/or potentially active transposons, silent transgenes, and certain chromosomal loci. Notably, bivalent chromatin seems to be characteristic for embryonic stem cells, where such loci change their activity and determination of epigenetic marks during cell differentiation. Here, we provide evidence that in vascular plants, the MOM1-like proteins evolved from the ubiquitous eukaryotic chromatin remodeling factor CHD3. The domains necessary for CHD3 function degenerated in MOM1, became dispensable for its gene silencing activity, and were replaced by a novel, unrelated domain providing silencing function. Therefore, MOM1-like proteins use a different silencing mechanism compared to the ancestral CHD3s. In spite of this divergent evolution, CHD3 and MOM1 seem to retain a functional cooperation in control of transcriptionally silent loci. Our results provide an unprecedented example of an evolutionary path for epigenetic components resulting in increased complexity of an epigenetic regulatory network characteristic for multicellular eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC2507757  PMID: 18725928

Results 1-5 (5)