Cytokinins play important roles in the growth and development of plants. Physiological and photosynthetic characteristics are common indicators to measure the growth and development in plants. However, few reports have described the molecular mechanisms of physiological and photosynthetic changes in response to cytokinin, particularly in woody plants. DNA methylation is an essential epigenetic modification that dynamically regulates gene expression in response to the external environment. In this study, we examined genome-wide DNA methylation variation and transcriptional variation in poplar (Populus tomentosa
) after short-term treatment with the synthetic cytokinin 6-benzylaminopurine (6-BA). We identified 460 significantly differentially methylated regions (DMRs) in response to 6-BA treatment. Transcriptome analysis showed that 339 protein-coding genes, 262 long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), and 15,793 24-nt small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) were differentially expressed under 6-BA treatment. Among these, 79% were differentially expressed between alleles in P
, and 102,819 allele-specific expression (ASE) loci in 19,200 genes were detected showing differences in ASE levels after 6-BA treatment. Combined DNA methylation and gene expression analysis demonstrated that DNA methylation plays an important role in regulating allele-specific gene expression. To further investigate the relationship between these 6-BA-responsive genes and phenotypic variation, we performed SNP analysis of 460 6-BA-responsive DMRs via re-sequencing using a natural population of P. tomentosa,
and we identified 206 SNPs that were significantly associated with growth and wood properties. Association analysis indicated that 53% of loci with allele-specific expression had primarily dominant effects on poplar traits. Our comprehensive analyses of P. tomentosa
DNA methylation and the regulation of allele-specific gene expression suggest that DNA methylation is an important regulator of imbalanced expression between allelic loci.
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