Moussa HF, Bsteh D, Yelagandula R, Pribitzer C, Stecher K, Bartalska K, Michetti L, Wang J, Zepeda-Martinez JA, Elling U, Stuckey JI, James LI, Frye SV, Bell O
Polycomb group (PcG) proteins play critical roles in the epigenetic inheritance of cell fate. The Polycomb Repressive Complexes PRC1 and PRC2 catalyse distinct chromatin modifications to enforce gene silencing, but how transcriptional repression is propagated through mitotic cell divisions remains a key unresolved question. Using reversible tethering of PcG proteins to ectopic sites in mouse embryonic stem cells, here we show that PRC1 can trigger transcriptional repression and Polycomb-dependent chromatin modifications. We find that canonical PRC1 (cPRC1), but not variant PRC1, maintains gene silencing through cell division upon reversal of tethering. Propagation of gene repression is sustained by cis-acting histone modifications, PRC2-mediated H3K27me3 and cPRC1-mediated H2AK119ub1, promoting a sequence-independent feedback mechanism for PcG protein recruitment. Thus, the distinct PRC1 complexes present in vertebrates can differentially regulate epigenetic maintenance of gene silencing, potentially enabling dynamic heritable responses to complex stimuli. Our findings reveal how PcG repression is potentially inherited in vertebrates.