, Volume 43, Issue 2-3, pp 121-145

Paramutation in maize

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Paramutation is a heritable change in gene expression induced by allele interactions. This review summarizes key experiments on three maize loci, which undergo paramutation. Similarities and differences between the phenomenology at the three loci are described. In spite of many differences with respect to the stability of the reduced expression states at each locus or whether paramutation correlates with DNA methylation and repeated sequences within the loci, recent experiments are consistent with a common mechanism underlying paramutation at all three loci. Most strikingly, trans-acting mutants have been isolated that prevent paramutation at all three loci and lead to the activation of silenced Mutator transposable elements. Models consistent with the hypothesis that paramutation involves heritable changes in chromatin structure are presented. Several potential roles for paramutation are discussed. These include localizing recombination to low-copy sequences within the genome, establishing and maintaining chromatin domain boundaries, and providing a mechanism for plants to transmit an environmentally influenced expression state to progeny.