The histone modification H3K27me3 is involved in repression of transcription and plays a crucial role in developmental transitions in both animals and plants. It is deposited by PRC2 (Polycomb repressive complex 2), a conserved protein complex. In Arabidopsis thaliana, H3K27me3 is found at 15% of all genes. These tend to encode transcription factors and other regulators important for development. However, it is not known how PRC2 is recruited to target loci nor how this set of target genes arose during Arabidopsis evolution. To resolve the latter, we integrated A. thaliana gene families with five independent genome-wide H3K27me3 data sets. Gene families were either significantly enriched or depleted of H3K27me3, showing a strong impact of shared ancestry to H3K27me3 distribution. To quantify this, we performed ancestral state reconstruction of H3K27me3 on phylogenetic trees of gene families. The set of H3K27me3-marked genes changed less than expected by chance, suggesting that H3K27me3 was retained after gene duplication. This retention suggests that the PRC2-recruiting signal could be encoded in the DNA and also conserved among certain duplicated genes. Indeed, H3K27me3-marked genes were overrepresented among paralogs sharing conserved noncoding sequences (CNSs) that are enriched with transcription factor binding sites. The association of upstream CNSs with H3K27me3-marked genes represents the first genome-wide connection between H3K27me3 and potential regulatory elements in plants. Thus, we propose that CNSs likely function as part of the PRC2 recruitment in plants.
Keywords: CNS; PRC2; PRC2 recruitment; ancestral state reconstruction.