Genomic imprinting, methylation and molecular evolution of maize Enhancer of zeste (Mez) homologs


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Imprinted gene expression refers to differential transcription of alleles depending on their parental origin. To date, most examples of imprinted gene expression in plants occur in the triploid endosperm tissue. The Arabidopsis gene MEDEA displays an imprinted pattern of gene expression and has homology to the Drosophila Polycomb group (PcG) protein Enhancer-of-zeste (E(z)). We have tested the allele-specific expression patterns of the three maize E(z)-like genes Mez1, Mez2 and Mez3. The expression of Mez2 and Mez3 is not imprinted, with a bi-allelic pattern of transcription for both genes in both the endosperm and embryonic tissue. In contrast, Mez1 displays a bi-allelic expression pattern in the embryonic tissue, and a mono-allelic expression pattern in the developing endosperm tissue. We demonstrate that mono-allelic expression of the maternal Mez1 allele occurs throughout endosperm development. We have identified a 556 bp differentially methylated region (DMR) located approximately 700 bp 5′ of the Mez1 transcription start site. This region is heavily methylated at CpG and CpNpG nucleotides on the non-expressed paternal allele but has low levels of methylation on the expressed maternal allele. Molecular evolutionary analysis indicates that conserved domains of all three Mez genes are under purifying selection. The common imprinted expression of Mez1 and MEDEA, in concert with their likely evolutionary origins, suggests that there may be a requirement for imprinting of at least one E(z)-like gene in angiosperms.