Epigenetic Regulation in Plants


Environment‐sensitive plant development follows a program inscribed in the DNA, and differential expression of the genes is the prerequisite of this program. In the last decades, it was possible to unravel how genes are correctly transcribed in time and space by interaction of trans‐acting factors with cis elements often located in the promoter of a gene. However recently, we learned that, in addition, another level of control, called epigenetic regulation, acting via alterations in chromatin structure is involved.

In this review, we will first summarise the basic mechanisms underlying epigenetic control of gene expression in plants. In the following article, we will focus on some selected recent results showing epigenetic control of major steps in plant development. This review cannot cover all new results in the field and we want to apologise to all who are not mentioned.

Key Concepts

  • Plant development involves coordinated expression of genes.
  • Recent findings show that this is also under epigenetic control.
  • Epigenetic control is exerted by different mechanisms, including DNA methylation, histone modifications and chromatin remodelling.
  • These modifications alter chromatin state, and by this, it can induce or repress expression of genes.
  • Major developmental steps, including seed development, flowering, sexual reproduction and leaf senescence are controlled by epigenetic mechanisms.
  • Stress responses of plants are also regulated by epigenetic mechanisms.

Keywords: chromatin; DNA methylation; epigenetic control; histone modifications

Figure 1. Epigenetic mechanisms regulating gene expression via alteration of chromatin state. Epigenetic control is exerted by three major processes: DNA methylation, histone modification and chromatin remodelling. HAT: histone acetyl transferases, HDAC: histone deacetylases, HMT: histone methyltransferases, HDM: histone demethylases.
Figure 2. Major developmental steps of plants are controlled via epigenetic mechanisms, including seed development, flowering, sexual reproduction and leaf senescence.


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Further Reading

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Holoch D and Moazed D (2015) RNA‐mediated epigenetic regulation of gene expression. Nature Reviews Genetics 16: 71–84.

Iwasaki M and Paszkowski J (2014) Epigenetic memory in plants. EMBO Journal 33: 1987–1998.

Ji L, Neumann DA and Schmitz RJ (2015) Crop epigenomics: Identifying, unlocking, and harnessing cryptic variation in crop genomes. Molecular Plant 8: 860–870.

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Meyer P (2015) Epigenetic variation and environmental change. Journal of Experimental Botany 66: 3541–3548.

Paszkowski J and Mittelsten‐Scheid O (1998) Plant genes: the genetics of epigenetics. Current Biology 12: R206–R208.

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Temel, Aslihan, Janack, Bianka, and Humbeck, Klaus(Oct 2015) Epigenetic Regulation in Plants. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0021848]