Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version



Liu and Avramova, Epigenetics & Chromatin (2016) 9:8 DOI 10.1186/s13072-016-0057-5


© 2016 Liu and Avramova. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Background: Plant genes that provide a different response to a similar dehydration stress illustrate the concept of transcriptional ‘dehydration stress memory’. Pre-exposing a plant to a biotic stress or a stress-signaling hormone may increase transcription from response genes in a future stress, a phenomenon known as ‘gene priming’. Although known that primed transcription is preceded by accumulation of H3K4me3 marks at primed genes, what mechanism provides for their appearance before the transcription was unclear. How augmented transcription is achieved, whether/how the two memory phenomena are connected at the transcriptional level, and whether similar molecular and/or epigenetic mechanisms regulate them are fundamental questions about the molecular mechanisms regulating gene expression.

Results: Although the stress hormone jasmonic acid (JA) was unable to induce transcription of tested dehydration stress response genes, it strongly potentiated transcription from specific ABA-dependent ‘memory’ genes. We elucidate the molecular mechanism causing their priming, demonstrate that stalled RNA polymerase II and H3K4me3 accumulate as epigenetic marks at the JA-primed ABA-dependent genes before actual transcription, and describe how these events occur mechanistically. The transcription factor MYC2 binds to the genes in response to both dehydration stress and to JA and determines the specificity of the priming. The MEDIATOR subunit MED25 links JA-priming with dehydration stress response pathways at the transcriptional level. Possible biological relevance of primed enhanced transcription from the specific memory genes is discussed.

Conclusions: The biotic stress hormone JA potentiated transcription from a specific subset of ABA-response genes, revealing a novel aspect of the JA- and ABA-signaling pathways’ interactions. H3K4me3 functions as an epigenetic mark at JA-primed dehydration stress response genes before transcription. We emphasize that histone and epigenetic marks are not synonymous and argue that distinguishing between them is important for understanding the role of chromatin marks in genes’ transcriptional performance. JA-priming, specifically of dehydration stress memory genes encoding cell/membrane protective functions, suggests it is an adaptational response to two different environmental stresses.