RNA Polymerase IV Functions in Paramutation in Zea mays

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Science  27 Feb 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5918, pp. 1201-1205
DOI: 10.1126/science.1164508

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Plants have distinct RNA polymerase complexes (Pol IV and Pol V) with largely unknown roles in maintaining small RNA–associated gene silencing. Curiously, the eudicot Arabidopsis thaliana is not affected when either function is lost. By use of mutation selection and positional cloning, we showed that the largest subunit of the presumed maize Pol IV is involved in paramutation, an inherited epigenetic change facilitated by an interaction between two alleles, as well as normal maize development. Bioinformatics analyses and nuclear run-on transcription assays indicate that Pol IV does not engage in the efficient RNA synthesis typical of the three major eukaryotic DNA-dependent RNA polymerases. These results indicate that Pol IV employs abnormal RNA polymerase activities to achieve genome-wide silencing and that its absence affects both maize development and heritable epigenetic changes.

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