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Open Access Research article

Conserved roles for Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 in the regulation of lateral organ development in Aquilegia x coerulea ‘Origami’

Emily J Gleason12 and Elena M Kramer1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 16 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

2 Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, 16 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2013, 13:185  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-13-185

Published: 20 November 2013



Epigenetic regulation is necessary for maintaining gene expression patterns in multicellular organisms. The Polycomb Group (PcG) proteins form several complexes with important and deeply conserved epigenetic functions in both the plant and animal kingdoms. One such complex, the Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PRC2), is critical to many developmental processes in plants including the regulation of major developmental transitions. In addition, PRC2 restricts the expression domain of various transcription factor families in Arabidopsis, including the class I KNOX genes and several of the ABCE class MADS box genes. While the functions of these transcription factors are known to be deeply conserved, whether or not their regulation by PRC2 is similarly conserved remains an open question.


Here we use virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) to characterize the function of the PRC2 complex in lateral organ development of Aquilegia x coerulea ‘Origami’, a member of the lower eudicot order Ranunculales. Leaves with PRC2 down-regulation displayed a range of phenotypes including ruffled or curled laminae, additional lobing, and an increased frequency of higher order branching. Sepals and petals were also affected, being narrowed, distorted, or, in the case of the sepals, exhibiting partial homeotic transformation. Many of the petal limbs also had a particularly intense yellow coloration due to an accumulation of carotenoid pigments. We show that the A. x coerulea floral MADS box genes AGAMOUS1 (AqAG1), APETALA3-3 (AqAP3-3) and SEPALLATA3 (AqSEP3) are up-regulated in many tissues, while expression of the class I KNOX genes and several candidate genes involved in carotenoid production or degradation are largely unaffected.


PRC2 targeting of several floral MADS box genes may be conserved in dicots, but other known targets do not appear to be. In the case of the type I KNOX genes, this may reflect a regulatory shift associated with the evolution of compound leaves.

Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2); Compound leaves; AGAMOUS; Class I KNOX genes; Carotenoid biosynthesis; Epigenetics; Evolution; Aquilegia