Bioessays 40 (4):1700137 (2018)

Cells and tissues are continuously exposed to a changing microenvironment, hence the necessity of a flexible modulation of gene expression that in complex organism have been achieved through specialized chromatin mechanisms. Chromatin-based cell memory enables cells to maintain their identity by fixing lineage specific transcriptional programs, ensuring their faithful transmission through cell division; in particular PcG-based memory system evolved to maintain the silenced state of developmental and cell cycle genes. In evolution the complexity of this system have increased, particularly in vertebrates, indicating combinatorial and dynamic properties of Polycomb proteins, in some cases even overflowing outside the cell nucleus. Therefore, their function may not be limited to the imposition of rigid states of genetic programs, but on the ability to recognize signals and allow plastic transcriptional changes in response to different stimuli. Here, we discuss the most novel PcG mediated memory functions in facing and responding to the challenges posed by a fluctuating environment. Cellular microenvironment can regularly change, hence the need for a dynamic modulation of transcriptional programs by the epigenome. In the current review, we highlight novel emerging aspects of epigenetic memory controlled by PcG proteins and the evolution of specialized functions to convey plasticity and adaptability to environmental changes.
Keywords PRC2  PcG proteins  adaptation  environmental changes  epigenetic memory  evolution  plasticity
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DOI 10.1002/bies.201700137
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