Repression of Germline Genes in Caenorhabditis elegans Somatic Tissues by H3K9 Dimethylation of Their Promoters

Genetics. 2019 May;212(1):125-140. doi: 10.1534/genetics.118.301878. Epub 2019 Mar 25.


Repression of germline-promoting genes in somatic cells is critical for somatic development and function. To study how germline genes are repressed in somatic tissues, we analyzed key histone modifications in three Caenorhabditis elegans synMuv B mutants, lin-15B, lin-35, and lin-37-all of which display ectopic expression of germline genes in the soma. LIN-35 and LIN-37 are members of the conserved DREAM complex. LIN-15B has been proposed to work with the DREAM complex but has not been shown biochemically to be a member of the complex. We found that, in wild-type worms, synMuv B target genes and germline genes are enriched for the repressive histone modification dimethylation of histone H3 on lysine 9 (H3K9me2) at their promoters. Genes with H3K9me2 promoter localization are evenly distributed across the autosomes, not biased toward autosomal arms, as are the broad H3K9me2 domains. Both synMuv B targets and germline genes display a dramatic reduction of H3K9me2 promoter localization in lin-15B mutants, but much weaker reduction in lin-35 and lin-37 mutants. This difference between lin-15B and DREAM complex mutants likely represents a difference in molecular function for these synMuv B proteins. In support of the pivotal role of H3K9me2 in regulation of germline genes by LIN-15B, global loss of H3K9me2 but not H3K9me3 results in phenotypes similar to synMuv B mutants, high-temperature larval arrest, and ectopic expression of germline genes in the soma. We propose that LIN-15B-driven enrichment of H3K9me2 at promoters of germline genes contributes to repression of those genes in somatic tissues.

Keywords: H3K9me2; LIN-15B; chromatin; germline genes; synMuv B.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Germ Cells
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Methylation
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational*


  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Histones