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Accession IconSRP155220

Caenorhabditis elegans heterochromatin factor SET-32 plays an essential role in transgenerational initiation of nuclear RNAi-mediated epigenetic silencing (RNA-Seq)

Organism Icon Caenorhabditis elegans
Sample Icon 23 Downloadable Samples
Technology Badge IconIllumina HiSeq 2500

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Epigenetic inheritance contributes fundamentally to transgenerational physiology and fitness. Mechanistic understanding of RNA-mediated chromatin modification and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, which in C. elegans can be triggered by exogenous double-stranded RNA (exo-dsRNA) or facilitated by endogenous small interfering RNAs (endo-siRNAs), has mainly been limited to the post-initiation phases of silencing. Indeed, the dynamic process by which nuclear RNAi engages a transcriptionally active target, before the repressive state is stably established, remains largely a mystery. Here we found that the onset of exo-dsRNA-induced nuclear RNAi is a transgenerational process, and that establishment requires SET-32, one of the three putative histone methyltransferases (HMTs) that are required for H3K9me3 deposition at the nuclear RNAi targets. We also performed multigenerational whole-genome analyses to examine the establishment of silencing at endogenous targets of germline nuclear RNAi. The nuclear Argonaute (AGO) protein HRDE-1 is essential for the maintenance of nuclear RNAi. Repairing a loss-of-function mutation in hrde-1 by CRISPR restored the silencing of endogenous targets in animals carrying wild type set-32. However, for numerous endogenous targets, repairing the hrde-1 mutation in a set-32;hrde-1 double mutant failed to restore their silencing states in up to 20 generations after the hrde-1 repair, using a similar genome editing approach. We found that despite a prominent role in the establishment of silencing, however, set-32 is completely dispensable for the maintenance of silencing once HRDE-1-dependent gene repression is established. Our study indicates that: 1) initiation and maintenance of siRNA-guided transcriptional repression are two distinct processes with different genetic requirements; and 2) the rate-limiting step of the establishment phase is a transgenerational, chromatin-based process. In addition, our study reveals a novel paradigm in which a heterochromatin factor primarily functions to promote the initiation of transgenerational silencing, expanding mechanistic understanding of the well-recognized role of heterochromatin in epigenetic maintenance. Overall design: 23 samples were analyzed using RNA-seq
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