RNA-directed DNA methylation in Arabidopsis thaliana depends on the upstream synthesis of 24-nucleotide small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) by RNA POLYMERASE IV (Pol IV) and downstream synthesis of non-coding transcripts by Pol V. Pol V transcripts are thought to interact with siRNAs which then recruit DOMAINS REARRANGED METHYLTRANSFERASE 2 (DRM2) to methylate DNA. The SU(VAR)3-9 homologues SUVH2 and SUVH9 act in this downstream step but the mechanism of their action is unknown. Here we show that genome-wide Pol V association with chromatin redundantly requires SUVH2 and SUVH9. Although SUVH2 and SUVH9 resemble histone methyltransferases, a crystal structure reveals that SUVH9 lacks a peptide-substrate binding cleft and lacks a properly formed S-adenosyl methionine (SAM)-binding pocket necessary for normal catalysis, consistent with a lack of methyltransferase activity for these proteins. SUVH2 and SUVH9 both contain SRA (SET-and RING-ASSOCIATED) domains capable of binding methylated DNA, suggesting that they function to recruit Pol V through DNA methylation. Consistent with this model, mutation of DNA METHYLTRANSFERASE 1 (MET1) causes loss of DNA methylation, a nearly complete loss of Pol V at its normal locations, and redistribution of Pol V to sites that become hypermethylated. Furthermore, tethering SUVH2 with a zinc finger to an unmethylated site is sufficient to recruit Pol V and establish DNA methylation and gene silencing. These results indicate that Pol V is recruited to DNA methylation through the methyl-DNA binding SUVH2 and SUVH9 proteins, and our mechanistic findings suggest a means for selectively targeting regions of plant genomes for epigenetic silencing.
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