Paramutation is a well-studied epigenetic phenomenon in which trans communication between two different alleles leads to meiotically heritable transcriptional silencing of one of the alleles. Paramutation at the b1 locus involves RNA-mediated transcriptional silencing and requires specific tandem repeats that generate siRNAs. This study addressed three important questions: 1) are the tandem repeats sufficient for paramutation, 2) do they need to be in an allelic position to mediate paramutation, and 3) is there an association between the ability to mediate paramutation and repeat DNA methylation levels? Paramutation was achieved using multiple transgenes containing the b1 tandem repeats, including events with tandem repeats of only one half of the repeat unit (413 bp), demonstrating that these sequences are sufficient for paramutation and an allelic position is not required for the repeats to communicate. Furthermore, the transgenic tandem repeats increased the expression of a reporter gene in maize, demonstrating the repeats contain transcriptional regulatory sequences. Transgene-mediated paramutation required the mediator of paramutation1 gene, which is necessary for endogenous paramutation, suggesting endogenous and transgene-mediated paramutation both require an RNA-mediated transcriptional silencing pathway. While all tested repeat transgenes produced small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), not all transgenes induced paramutation suggesting that, as with endogenous alleles, siRNA production is not sufficient for paramutation. The repeat transgene-induced silencing was less efficiently transmitted than silencing induced by the repeats of endogenous b1 alleles, which is always 100% efficient. The variability in the strength of the repeat transgene-induced silencing enabled testing whether the extent of DNA methylation within the repeats correlated with differences in efficiency of paramutation. Transgene-induced paramutation does not require extensive DNA methylation within the transgene. However, increased DNA methylation within the endogenous b1 repeats after transgene-induced paramutation was associated with stronger silencing of the endogenous allele.
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