Context-dependent gene silencing is used by many organisms to stably modulate gene activity for large chromosomal regions. We have used tandem array transgenes as a model substrate in a screen for Caenorhabditis elegans mutants that affect context-dependent gene silencing in somatic tissues. This screen yielded multiple alleles of a previously uncharacterized gene, designated tam-1 (for tandem-array-modifier). Loss-of-function mutations in tam-1 led to a dramatic reduction in the activity of numerous highly repeated transgenes. These effects were apparently context dependent, as nonrepetitive transgenes retained activity in a tam-1 mutant background. In addition to the dramatic alterations in transgene activity, tam-1 mutants showed modest alterations in expression of a subset of endogenous cellular genes. These effects include genetic interactions that place tam-1 into a group called the class B synMuv genes (for a Synthetic Multivulva phenotype); this family plays a negative role in the regulation of RAS pathway activity in C. elegans. Loss-of-function mutants in other members of the class-B synMuv family, including lin-35, which encodes a protein similar to the tumor suppressor Rb, exhibit a hypersilencing in somatic transgenes similar to that of tam-1 mutants. Molecular analysis reveals that tam-1 encodes a broadly expressed nuclear protein with RING finger and B-box motifs.
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