Meiotically heritable epimutations affecting transgene expression are not well understood, even and in particular in the plant model species, Arabidopsis thaliana. The Arabidopsis trans-silencer locus, C73, which encodes a fusion protein between the repressor of photomorphogenesis, COP1, and green fluorescent protein (GFP-COP1), heritably modifies the expression pattern and cop1-like cosuppression phenotypes of multiple GFP-COP1 target loci by transcriptional gene silencing.
Here we describe three additional features of trans-silencing by the C73 locus. First, the silencing phenotype of C73 and of similar complex loci was acquired epigenetically over the course of no more than two plant generations via a stage resembling posttranscriptional silencing. Second, imprints imposed by the C73 locus were maintained heritably for at least five generations in the absence of the silencer with only sporadic spontaneous reversion. Third, the pairing of two other GFP-COP1 transgene loci, L91 and E82, showed an increased tendency for epigenetic modification when L91 carried an epigenetic imprint from C73, but not when E82 bore the imprint.
The latter data suggest a transfer of trans-silencing activity from one transgene locus, C73, to another, namely L91. These results extend our operational understanding of interactions among transgenes in Arabidopsis.