Cell Culture-Induced Gradual and Frequent Epigenetic Reprogramming of Invertedly Repeated Tobacco Transgene Epialleles
Using a two-component transgene system involving two epiallelic variants of the invertedly repeated transgenes in locus 1 (Lo1) and a homologous single-copy transgene locus 2 (Lo2), we have studied the stability of the methylation patterns and trans-silencing interactions in cell culture and regenerated tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) plants. The posttranscriptionally silenced (PTGS) epiallele of the Lo1 trans-silences and trans-methylates the target Lo2 in a hybrid (Lo1/Lo2 line), while its transcriptionally silenced variant (Lo1E) does not. This pattern was stable over several generations in plants. However, in early Lo1E/Lo2 callus, decreased transgene expression and partial loss of Lo1E promoter methylation compared with leaf tissue in the parental plant were observed. Analysis of small RNA species and coding region methylation suggested that the transgenes were silenced by a PTGS mechanism. The Lo1/Lo2 line remained silenced, but the nonmethylated Lo1 promoter acquired partial methylation in later callus stages. These data indicate that a cell culture process has brought both epialleles to a similar epigenetic ground. Bisulfite sequencing of the 35S promoter within the Lo1 silencer revealed molecules with no, intermediate, and high levels of methylation, demonstrating, to our knowledge for the first time, cell-to-cell methylation diversity of callus. Regenerated plants showed high interindividual but low intraindividual epigenetic variability, indicating that the callus-induced epiallelic variants were transmitted to plants and became fixed. We propose that epigenetic changes associated with dedifferentiation might influence regulatory pathways mediated by trans-PTGS processes.