Background: SET-domain proteins are histone lysine (K) methyltransferases (HMTase) implicated in defining transcriptionally permissive or repressive chromatin. The Arabidopsis ASH1 HOMOLOG 2 (ASHH2) protein (also called SDG8, EFS and CCR1) has been suggested to methylate H3K4 and/or H3K36 and is similar to Drosophila ASH1, a positive maintainer of gene expression, and yeast Set2, a H3K36 HMTase. Mutation of the ASHH2 gene has pleiotropic developmental effects. Here we focus on the role of ASHH2 in plant reproduction.
Methodology/principal findings: A slightly reduced transmission of the ashh2 allele in reciprocal crosses implied involvement in gametogenesis or gamete function. However, the main requirement of ASHH2 is sporophytic. On the female side, close to 80% of mature ovules lack embryo sac. On the male side, anthers frequently develop without pollen sacs or with specific defects in the tapetum layer, resulting in reduction in the number of functional pollen per anther by up to approximately 90%. In consistence with the phenotypic findings, an ASHH2 promoter-reporter gene was expressed at the site of megaspore mother cell formation as well as tapetum layers and pollen. ashh2 mutations also result in homeotic changes in floral organ identity. Transcriptional profiling identified more than 300 up-regulated and 600 down-regulated genes in ashh2 mutant inflorescences, whereof the latter included genes involved in determination of floral organ identity, embryo sac and anther/pollen development. This was confirmed by real-time PCR. In the chromatin of such genes (AP1, AtDMC1 and MYB99) we observed a reduction of H3K36 trimethylation (me3), but not H3K4me3 or H3K36me2.
Conclusions/significance: The severe distortion of reproductive organ development in ashh2 mutants, argues that ASHH2 is required for the correct expression of genes essential to reproductive development. The reduction in the ashh2 mutant of H3K36me3 on down-regulated genes relevant to the observed defects, implicates ASHH2 in regulation of gene expression via H3K36 trimethylation in chromatin of Arabidopsis inflorescences.