Cellular identity during metazoan development is maintained by epigenetic modifications of chromatin structure brought about by the activity of specific proteins which mediate histone variant incorporation, histone modifications, and nucleosome remodeling. HP1 proteins directly influence gene expression by modifying chromatin structure. We previously showed that the Caenorhabditis elegans HP1 proteins HPL-1 and HPL-2 are required for several aspects of post-embryonic development. To gain insight into how HPL proteins influence gene expression in a developmental context, we carried out a candidate RNAi screen to identify suppressors of hpl-1 and hpl-2 phenotypes. We identified SET-2, the homologue of yeast and mammalian SET1, as an antagonist of HPL-1 and HPL-2 activity in growth and somatic gonad development. Yeast Set1 and its mammalian counterparts SET1/MLL are H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) histone methyltransferases associated with gene activation as part of large multisubunit complexes. We show that the nematode counterparts of SET1/MLL complex subunits also antagonize HPL function in post-embryonic development. Genetic analysis is consistent with SET1/MLL complex subunits having both shared and unique functions in development. Furthermore, as observed in other species, we find that SET1/MLL complex homologues differentially affect global H3K4 methylation. Our results suggest that HP1 and a SET1/MLL-related complex may play antagonistic roles in the epigenetic regulation of specific developmental programs.
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