In Arabidopsis, transcriptional gene silencing (TGS) can be triggered by 24 nt small-interfering RNAs (siRNAs) through the RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) pathway. By functional analysis of NERD, a GW repeat- and PHD finger-containing protein, we demonstrate that Arabidopsis harbors a second siRNA-dependent DNA methylation pathway targeting a subset of nonconserved genomic loci. The activity of the NERD-dependent pathway differs from RdDM by the fact that it relies both on silencing-related factors previously implicated only in posttranscriptional gene silencing (PTGS), including RNA-DEPENDENT RNA POLYMERASE1/6 and ARGONAUTE2, and most likely on 21 nt siRNAs. A central role for NERD in integrating RNA silencing and chromatin signals in transcriptional silencing is supported by data showing that it binds both to histone H3 and AGO2 proteins and contributes to siRNA accumulation at a NERD-targeted locus. Our results unravel the existence of a conserved chromatin-based RNA silencing pathway encompassing both PTGS and TGS components in plants.
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