Epigenetic modifications, including chromatin modifications and DNA methylation, have a central role in the regulation of gene expression in plants and animals.
The transmission of epigenetic marks is crucial for certain genes to retain cell lineage-specific expression patterns and maintain cell fate.
However,the marks that have accumulated at regulatory loci during growth and development or in response to environmental stimuli need to be deleted in gametes or embryos, particularly in organisms such as plants that do not set aside a germ line, to ensure the proper development of offspring.
In Arabidopsis thaliana, prolonged exposure to cold temperatures (winter cold), in a process known as vernalization, triggers the mitotically stable epigenetic silencing of the potent floral repressor FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC), and renders plants competent to flower in the spring; however, this silencing is reset during each generation.
The seed-specific transcription factor LEAFY COTYLEDON1 (LEC1) promotes the initial establishment of an active chromatin state at FLCand activates its expression de novo in the pro-embryo, thus reversing the silenced state inherited from gametes. This active chromatin state is passed on from the pro-embryo to post-embryonic life, and leads to transmission of the embryonic memory of FLC activation to post-embryonic stages.
Scientists findings reveal a mechanism for the reprogramming of embryonic chromatin states in plants, and provide insights into the epigenetic memory of embryonic active gene expression in post-embryonic phases, through which an embryonic factor acts to ‘control’ post-embryonic development processes that are distinct from embryogenesis in plants.