The Polycomb repressive complex 2 deposits H3K27me3 and represses transposable elements in a broad range of eukaryotes

Curr Biol. 2023 Oct 23;33(20):4367-4380.e9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.08.073. Epub 2023 Sep 21.


The mobility of transposable elements (TEs) contributes to evolution of genomes. Their uncontrolled activity causes genomic instability; therefore, expression of TEs is silenced by host genomes. TEs are marked with DNA and H3K9 methylation, which are associated with silencing in flowering plants, animals, and fungi. However, in distantly related groups of eukaryotes, TEs are marked by H3K27me3 deposited by the Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2), an epigenetic mark associated with gene silencing in flowering plants and animals. The direct silencing of TEs by PRC2 has so far only been shown in one species of ciliates. To test if PRC2 silences TEs in a broader range of eukaryotes, we generated mutants with reduced PRC2 activity and analyzed the role of PRC2 in extant species along the lineage of Archaeplastida and in the diatom P. tricornutum. In this diatom and the red alga C. merolae, a greater proportion of TEs than genes were repressed by PRC2, whereas a greater proportion of genes than TEs were repressed by PRC2 in bryophytes. In flowering plants, TEs contained potential cis-elements recognized by transcription factors and associated with neighbor genes as transcriptional units repressed by PRC2. Thus, silencing of TEs by PRC2 is observed not only in Archaeplastida but also in diatoms and ciliates, suggesting that PRC2 deposited H3K27me3 to silence TEs in the last common ancestor of eukaryotes. We hypothesize that during the evolution of Archaeplastida, TE fragments marked with H3K27me3 were selected to shape transcriptional regulation, controlling networks of genes regulated by PRC2.

Keywords: Anthoceros agrestis; Arabidopsis thaliana; Cyanidioschyzon merolae; H3K27me3; Marchantia polymorpha; PRC2; Phaeodactylum tricornutum; chromatin; evolution; transposon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arabidopsis* / genetics
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics
  • Eukaryota / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2* / genetics
  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2* / metabolism


  • Polycomb Repressive Complex 2
  • Histones
  • DNA Transposable Elements