Tissue-specific gene silencing mediated by a naturally occurring chalcone synthase gene cluster in Glycine max

Jigyasa H Tuteja, Steven J Clough, Wan-Ching Chan, Lila O Vodkin
Plant Cell 2004, 16 (4): 819-35
Chalcone synthase, a key regulatory enzyme in the flavonoid pathway, constitutes an eight-member gene family in Glycine max (soybean). Three of the chalcone synthase (CHS) gene family members are arranged as inverted repeats in a 10-kb region, corresponding to the I locus (inhibitor). Spontaneous mutations of a dominant allele (I or i(i)) to a recessive allele (i) have been shown to delete promoter sequences, paradoxically increasing total CHS transcript levels and resulting in black seed coats. However, it is not known which of the gene family members contribute toward pigmentation and how this locus affects CHS expression in other tissues. We investigated the unusual nature of the I locus using four pairs of isogenic lines differing with respect to alleles of the I locus. RNA gel blots using a generic open reading frame CHS probe detected similar CHS transcript levels in stems, roots, leaves, young pods, and cotyledons of the yellow and black isolines but not in the seed coats, which is consistent with the dominant I and i(i) alleles mediating CHS gene silencing in a tissue-specific manner. Using real-time RT-PCR, a variable pattern of expression of CHS genes in different tissues was demonstrated. However, increase in pigmentation in the black seed coats was associated with release of the silencing effect specifically on CHS7/CHS8, which occurred at all stages of seed coat development. These expression changes were linked to structural changes taking place at the I locus, shown to encompass a much wider region of at least 27 kb, comprising two identical 10.91-kb stretches of CHS gene duplications. The suppressive effect of this 27-kb I locus in a specific tissue of the G. max plant represents a unique endogenous gene silencing mechanism.

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