Heterochromatin has essential functions in maintaining chromosome structure, in protecting genome integrity and in stabilizing gene expression programs. Heterochromatin is often nucleated by underlying DNA repeat sequences, such as major satellite repeats (MSR) and long interspersed nuclear elements (LINE). In order to establish heterochromatin, MSR and LINE elements need to be transcriptionally competent and generate non-coding repeat RNA that remain chromatin associated. We explored whether these heterochromatic RNA, similar to DNA and histones, may be methylated, particularly for 5-methylcytosine (5mC) or methyl-6-adenosine (m6A). Our analysis in mouse ES cells identifies only background level of 5mC but significant enrichment for m6A on heterochromatic RNA. Moreover, MSR transcripts are a novel target for m6A RNA modification, and their m6A RNA enrichment is decreased in ES cells that are mutant for Mettl3 or Mettl14, which encode components of a central RNA methyltransferase complex. Importantly, MSR transcripts that are partially deficient in m6A RNA methylation display impaired chromatin association and have a reduced potential to form RNA:DNA hybrids. We propose that m6A modification of MSR RNA will enhance the functions of MSR repeat transcripts to stabilize mouse heterochromatin.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.