Differential gene expression and epiregulation of alpha zein gene copies in maize haplotypes

PLoS Genet. 2011 Jun;7(6):e1002131. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002131. Epub 2011 Jun 23.


Multigenic traits are very common in plants and cause diversity. Nutritional quality is such a trait, and one of its factors is the composition and relative expression of storage protein genes. In maize, they represent a medium-size gene family distributed over several chromosomes and unlinked locations. Two inbreds, B73 and BSSS53, both from the Iowa Stiff Stock Synthetic collection, have been selected to analyze allelic and non-allelic variability in these regions that span between 80-500 kb of chromosomal DNA. Genes were copied to unlinked sites before and after allotetraploidization of maize, but before transposition enlarged intergenic regions in a haplotype-specific manner. Once genes are copied, expression of donor genes is reduced relative to new copies. Epigenetic regulation seems to contribute to silencing older copies, because some of them can be reactivated when endosperm is maintained as cultured cells, indicating that copy number variation might contribute to a reserve of gene copies. Bisulfite sequencing of the promoter region also shows different methylation patterns among gene clusters as well as differences between tissues, suggesting a possible position effect on regulatory mechanisms as a result of inserting copies at unlinked locations. The observations offer a potential paradigm for how different gene families evolve and the impact this has on their expression and regulation of their members.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Conserved Sequence
  • DNA Methylation
  • Endosperm / genetics
  • Endosperm / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Dosage*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Genes, Plant*
  • Genetic Loci
  • Haplotypes
  • Multigene Family
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Leaves / genetics
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Retroelements
  • Terminal Repeat Sequences
  • Zea mays / genetics*
  • Zea mays / metabolism
  • Zein / genetics*
  • Zein / metabolism


  • Retroelements
  • Zein