Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 118(29) ( 2021)
Parent-of-origin–dependent gene expression in mammals and flowering plants results from differing chromatin imprints (genomic imprinting) between maternally and paternally inherited alleles. Imprinted gene expression in the endosperm of seeds is associated with localized hypomethylation of maternally but not paternally inherited DNA, with certain small RNAs also displaying parent-of-origin–specific expression. To understand the evolution of imprinting mechanisms in Oryza sativa (rice), we analyzed imprinting divergence among four cultivars that span both japonica and indica subspecies: Nipponbare, Kitaake, 93-11, and IR64. Most imprinted genes are imprinted across cultivars and enriched for functions in chromatin and transcriptional regulation, development, and signaling. However, 4 to 11% of imprinted genes display divergent imprinting. Analyses of DNA methylation and small RNAs revealed that endosperm-specific 24-nt small RNA–producing loci show weak RNA-directed DNA methylation, frequently overlap genes, and are imprinted four times more often than genes. However, imprinting divergence most often correlated with local DNA methylation epimutations (9 of 17 assessable loci), which were largely stable within subspecies. Small insertion/deletion events and transposable element insertions accompanied 4 of the 9 locally epimutated loci and associated with imprinting divergence at another 4 of the remaining 8 loci. Correlating epigenetic and genetic variation occurred at key regulatory regions—the promoter and transcription start site of maternally biased genes, and the promoter and gene body of paternally biased genes. Our results reinforce models for the role of maternal-specific DNA hypomethylation in imprinting of both maternally and paternally biased genes, and highlight the role of transposition and epimutation in rice imprinting evolution.