Transcriptional downregulation caused by intronic triplet repeat expansions underlies diseases such as Friedreich's ataxia. This downregulation of gene expression is coupled with epigenetic changes, but the underlying mechanisms are unknown. Here, we show that an intronic GAA/TTC triplet expansion within the IIL1 gene of Arabidopsis thaliana results in accumulation of 24-nucleotide short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and repressive histone marks at the IIL1 locus, which in turn causes its transcriptional downregulation and an associated phenotype. Knocking down DICER LIKE-3 (DCL3), which produces 24-nucleotide siRNAs, suppressed transcriptional downregulation of IIL1 and the triplet expansion-associated phenotype. Furthermore, knocking down additional components of the RNA-dependent DNA methylation (RdDM) pathway also suppressed both transcriptional downregulation of IIL1 and the repeat expansion-associated phenotype. Thus, our results show that triplet repeat expansions can lead to local siRNA biogenesis, which in turn downregulates transcription through an RdDM-dependent epigenetic modification.
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