Expression of 5 S rRNA genes linked to 35 S rDNA in plants, their epigenetic modification and regulatory element divergence
Background: In plants, the 5 S rRNA genes usually occur as separate tandems (S-type arrangement) or, less commonly, linked to 35 S rDNA units (L-type). The activity of linked genes remains unknown so far. We studied the homogeneity and expression of 5 S genes in several species from family Asteraceae known to contain linked 35 S-5 S units. Additionally, their methylation status was determined using bisulfite sequencing. Fluorescence in situ hybridization was applied to reveal the sub-nuclear positions of rDNA arrays. Results: We found that homogenization of L-type units went to completion in most (4/6) but not all species. Two species contained major L-type and minor S-type units (termed L-s-type). The linked genes dominate 5 S rDNA expression while the separate tandems do not seem to be expressed. Members of tribe Anthemideae evolved functional variants of the polymerase III promoter in which a residing C-box element differs from the canonical angiosperm motif by as much as 30%. On this basis, a more relaxed consensus sequence of a plant C-box: (5'-RGSWTGGGTG-3') is proposed. The 5 S paralogs display heavy DNA methylation similarly as to their unlinked counterparts. FISH revealed the close association of 35 S-5 S arrays with nucleolar periphery indicating that transcription of 5 S genes may occur in this territory. Conclusions: We show that the unusual linked arrangement of 5 S genes, occurring in several plant species, is fully compatible with their expression and functionality. This extraordinary 5 S gene dynamics is manifested at different levels, such as variation in intrachromosomal positions, unit structure, epigenetic modification and considerable divergence of regulatory motifs.