Proximal termination generates a transcriptional state that determines the rate of establishment of Polycomb silencing

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The mechanisms and timescales controlling de novo establishment of chromatin-mediated transcriptional silencing by Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) are unclear. Here, we investigate PRC2 silencing at Arabidopsis FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC), known to involve co-transcriptional RNA processing, histone demethylation activity, and PRC2 function, but so far not mechanistically connected. We develop and test a computational model describing proximal polyadenylation/termination mediated by the RNA-binding protein FCA that induces H3K4me1 removal by the histone demethylase FLD. H3K4me1 removal feeds back to reduce RNA polymerase II (RNA Pol II) processivity and thus enhance early termination, thereby repressing productive transcription. The model predicts that this transcription-coupled repression controls the level of transcriptional antagonism to PRC2 action. Thus, the effectiveness of this repression dictates the timescale for establishment of PRC2/H3K27me3 silencing. We experimentally validate these mechanistic model predictions, revealing that co-transcriptional processing sets the level of productive transcription at the locus, which then determines the rate of the ON-to-OFF switch to PRC2 silencing.