Epigenetics of floral homeotic genes in relation to sexual dimorphism in the dioecious plant Mercurialis annua Academic Article uri icon


  • In plants, dioecy characterizes species carrying male and female flowers on separate plants and occurs in about 6% of angiosperms. To date, the molecular mechanism(s) underlying sexual dimorphism is essentially unknown. The ability of gender-reversal by hormone application suggests that epigenetics might play an important role in sexual dimorphism. Proteome analysis of nuclei derived from flower buds of females, males and feminized males of the dioecious plant Mercurialis annua revealed differentially expressed proteins related to nucleic acid binding proteins, hydrolases and transcription factors, including floral homeotic genes. Further analysis showed that class B genes are mainly expressed in male flowers, while class D genes, as well as SUPERMAN-like genes, were mainly expressed in female flowers. Cytokinin-induced feminization of male plants was associated with down-regulation of male-specific genes concomitantly with up-regulation of female-specific genes. No correlation could be found between the expression of class B and D genes and their DNA methylation or chromatin conformation. Thus, our results ruled out epigenetic control over floral identity genes as the major determinants regulating sexual dimorphisms. Rather, determination of sex in M. annua might be controlled upstream of floral identity genes by a gender-specific factor that affects hormonal homeostasis.

publication date

  • January 1, 2018