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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The rules of gene expression in plants: Organ identity and gene body methylation are key factors for regulation of gene expression in Arabidopsis thaliana

Felipe F Aceituno1, Nick Moseyko2, Seung Y Rhee2 and Rodrigo A Gutiérrez13*

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Genética Molecular y Microbiología, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Avenue Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 340, Santiago, Chile

2 Department of Plant Biology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 260 Panama St, Stanford, CA, 94305, USA

3 Department of Biology, New York University, 100 Washington Square East, 1009 Main Building, New York, NY 10003, USA

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:438  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-438

Published: 23 September 2008

Abstract

Background

Microarray technology is a widely used approach for monitoring genome-wide gene expression. For Arabidopsis, there are over 1,800 microarray hybridizations representing many different experimental conditions on Affymetrix™ ATH1 gene chips alone. This huge amount of data offers a unique opportunity to infer the principles that govern the regulation of gene expression in plants.

Results

We used bioinformatics methods to analyze publicly available data obtained using the ATH1 chip from Affymetrix. A total of 1887 ATH1 hybridizations were normalized and filtered to eliminate low-quality hybridizations. We classified and compared control and treatment hybridizations and determined differential gene expression. The largest differences in gene expression were observed when comparing samples obtained from different organs. On average, ten-fold more genes were differentially expressed between organs as compared to any other experimental variable. We defined "gene responsiveness" as the number of comparisons in which a gene changed its expression significantly. We defined genes with the highest and lowest responsiveness levels as hypervariable and housekeeping genes, respectively. Remarkably, housekeeping genes were best distinguished from hypervariable genes by differences in methylation status in their transcribed regions. Moreover, methylation in the transcribed region was inversely correlated (R2 = 0.8) with gene responsiveness on a genome-wide scale. We provide an example of this negative relationship using genes encoding TCA cycle enzymes, by contrasting their regulatory responsiveness to nitrate and methylation status in their transcribed regions.

Conclusion

Our results indicate that the Arabidopsis transcriptome is largely established during development and is comparatively stable when faced with external perturbations. We suggest a novel functional role for DNA methylation in the transcribed region as a key determinant capable of restraining the capacity of a gene to respond to internal/external cues. Our findings suggest a prominent role for epigenetic mechanisms in the regulation of gene expression in plants.