ORTH/VIM proteins that regulate DNA methylation are functional ubiquitin E3 ligases

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Appropriate methylation of genomes is essential for gene regulation. Here, we describe the six-member ORTHRUS (ORTH) gene family of Arabidopsis thaliana that plays a role in DNA methylation in vivo. ORTH1− ORTH5 are predicted to encode proteins that contain one plant homeodomain (PHD), two really interesting new gene (RING) domains, and one set ring associated (SRA) domain, whereas ORTHlike-1 encodes a protein with only one RING and SRA domain. cDNAs for ORTH1, ORTH2, ORTH5 and ORTHlike-1 were isolated, and when expressed as glutathione-S-transferase (GST) fusion proteins, were capable of promoting ubiquitylation in vitro with the E2 AtUBC11. ORTH1 promotes ubiquitylation when paired with additional AtUBC8 family members. ORTH1 proteins with substitutions in metal–ligand binding residues in each ORTH1 RING domain individually, and ORTH1 truncation derivatives lacking one or both RING domains, were tested for their ability to catalyze ubiquitylation in vitro. In these assays, either ORTH1 RING domain is capable of promoting ubiquitylation. The PHD alone is not active as an E3 ligase, nor is it required for ligase activity. GFP-ORTH1 and GFP-ORTH2 are nuclear-localized in transgenic Arabidopsis plants. Overexpression of ORTH1 or ORTH2 in Arabidopsis leads to an altered flowering time. Inspection of DNA methylation at FWA and Cen180 repeats revealed hypomethylation when ORTH proteins were overexpressed. Once initiated, a late-flowering phenotype persisted in the absence of the ORTH transgene, consistent with epigenetic effects at FWA. We conclude that ORTH proteins are E3 ligases mediating DNA methylation status in vivo.

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