Epigenetic repeat-induced gene silencing (RIGS) in Arabidopsis

Plant Mol Biol. 1993 Sep;22(6):1067-85. doi: 10.1007/BF00028978.


In several plant systems expression of structurally intact genes may be silenced epigenetically when a transgenic construct increases the copy number of DNA sequences. Here we report epigenetic silencing in Arabidopsis lines containing transgenic inserts of defined genetic structure, all at the same genomic locus. These comprise an allelic series that includes a single copy of the primary insert, which carries repeated drug resistance transgenes, and a set of its derivatives, which as a result of recombination within the insert carry different numbers and alleles of resistance genes. Although the drug resistance genes remained intact, both the primary and some recombinant lines nevertheless segregated many progeny that were partly or fully drug-sensitive because of silencing. As in other systems silencing was reversible, and correlated with decreased steady-state mRNA and increased DNA methylation. Each different number and combination of genes, on the same or different (i.e., homologous) chromosomes, conditioned its own idiosyncratic segregation pattern. Strikingly, lines with a single gene segregated only a few slightly drug-sensitive progeny whereas multi-gene lines segregated many highly sensitive progeny, indicating dependence of silencing at this locus on repeated sequences. This argues strongly against explanations based on antisense RNA, but is consistent with explanations based on ectopic DNA pairing. One possibility is that silencing reflects the interaction of paired homologous DNA with flanking heterologous DNA, which induces condensation of chromatin into a non-transcribable state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / drug effects
  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Blotting, Northern
  • Blotting, Southern
  • Cinnamates*
  • Drug Resistance / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, Plant*
  • Hygromycin B / analogs & derivatives
  • Hygromycin B / pharmacology
  • Kanamycin / pharmacology
  • Phenotype
  • Plasmids*
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid*
  • Transformation, Genetic


  • Cinnamates
  • Hygromycin B
  • hygromycin A
  • Kanamycin