Background: Epigenetic factors such as DNA methylation and histone modifications regulate a wide range of processes in plant development. Cytosine methylation and demethylation exist in a dynamic balance and have been associated with gene silencing or activation, respectively. In Arabidopsis, cytosine demethylation is achieved by specific DNA glycosylases, including AtDME (DEMETER) and AtROS1 (REPRESSOR OF SILENCING1), which have been shown to play important roles in seed development. Nevertheless, studies on monocot DNA glycosylases are limited. Here we present the study of a DME homologue from barley (HvDME), an agronomically important cereal crop, during seed development and in response to conditions of drought.
Results: An HvDME gene, identified in GenBank, was found to encode a protein with all the characteristic modules of DME-family DNA glycosylase proteins. Phylogenetic analysis revealed a high degree of homology to other monocot DME glycosylases, and sequence divergence from the ROS1, DML2 and DML3 orthologues. The HvDME gene contains the 5' and 3' Long Terminal Repeats (LTR) of a Copia retrotransposon element within the 3' downstream region. HvDME transcripts were shown to be present both in vegetative and reproductive tissues and accumulated differentially in different seed developmental stages and in two different cultivars with varying seed size. Additionally, remarkable induction of HvDME was evidenced in response to drought treatment in a drought-tolerant barley cultivar. Moreover, variable degrees of DNA methylation in specific regions of the HvDME promoter and gene body were detected in two different cultivars.
Conclusion: A gene encoding a DNA glycosylase closely related to cereal DME glycosylases was characterized in barley. Expression analysis during seed development and under dehydration conditions suggested a role for HvDME in endosperm development, seed maturation, and in response to drought. Furthermore, differential DNA methylation patterns within the gene in two different cultivars suggested epigenetic regulation of HvDME. The study of a barley DME gene will contribute to our understanding of epigenetic mechanisms operating during seed development and stress response in agronomically important cereal crops.