Transgenerational memory of gene expression changes induced by heavy metal stress in rice (Oryza sativa L.)

Weixuan Cong, Yiling Miao, Lei Xu, Yunhong Zhang, Chunlei Yuan, Junmeng Wang, Tingting Zhuang, Xiuyun Lin, Lili Jiang, Ningning Wang, Jian Ma, Karen A. Sanguinet, Bao Liu, Sachin Rustgi, Xiufang Ou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Heavy metal toxicity has become a major threat to sustainable crop production worldwide. Thus, considerable interest has been placed on deciphering the mechanisms that allow plants to combat heavy metal stress. Strategies to deal with heavy metals are largely focused on detoxification, transport and/or sequestration. The P1B subfamily of the Heavy Metal-transporting P-type ATPases (HMAs) was shown to play a crucial role in the uptake and translocation of heavy metals in plants. Here, we report the locus-specific expression changes in the rice HMA genes together with several low-copy cellular genes and transposable elements upon the heavy metal treatment and monitored the transgenerational inheritance of the altered expression states. We reveal that plants cope with heavy metal stress by making heritable changes in gene expression and further determined gene-specific responses to heavy metal stress. Results: We found most HMA genes were upregulated in response to heavy metal stress, and furthermore found evidence of transgenerational memory via changes in gene regulation even after the removal of heavy metals. To explore whether DNA methylation was also altered in response to the heavy metal stress, we selected a Tos17 retrotransposon for bisulfite sequencing and studied its methylation state across three generations. We found the DNA methylation state of Tos17 was altered in response to the heavy metal stress and showed transgenerational inheritance. Conclusions: Collectively, the present study elucidates heritable changes in gene expression and DNA methylation in rice upon exposure to heavy metal stress and discusses implications of this knowledge in breeding for heavy metal tolerant crops.

Original languageEnglish
Article number282
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jun 27
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA methylation
  • Gene expression
  • Heavy metal stress
  • Transgenerational memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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