Transcriptional silencing by the Polycomb Group of genes maintains the position-specific repression of homeotic genes throughout Drosophila development. The Polycomb Group of genes characterized to date encode chromatin-associated proteins that have been suggested to form heterochromatin-like structures. By studying the expression of reporter genes, we have identified a 725 bp fragment, called MCP725, in the homeotic gene Abdominal-B, that accurately maintains position-specific silencing during proliferation of imaginal cells. Silencing by MCP725 requires the Polycomb and the Polycomblike genes, indicating that it contains a Polycomb response element To investigate the mechanisms of transcriptional silencing by MCP725, we have studied its temporal requirements by removing MCP725 from the transgene at various times during development. We have discovered that excision of MCP725 during larval stages leads to loss of silencing. Our findings indicate that the silencer is required for the maintenance of the repressed state throughout cell proliferation. They also suggest that propagation of the silenced state does not occur merely by templating of a heterochromatin structure by virtue of protein-protein interactions. Rather, they suggest that silencers play an active role in the maintenance of the position-specific repression throughout development.

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