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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 14;103(11):4186-91. Epub 2006 Mar 6.

Human centromeric chromatin is a dynamic chromosomal domain that can spread over noncentromeric DNA.

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  • 1Department of Genetics and Genomics, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118, USA.

Erratum in

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Apr 18;103(16):6410.


Human centromeres are specialized chromatin domains containing the centromeric histone H3 variant CENP-A. CENP-A nucleosomes are interspersed with nucleosomes containing histone H3 dimethylated at lysine 4, distinguishing centromeric chromatin (CEN chromatin) from flanking heterochromatin that is defined by H3 lysine 9 methylation. To understand the relationship between chromatin organization and the genomic structure of human centromeres, we compared molecular profiles of three endogenous human centromeres, defined by uninterrupted higher-order alpha-satellite DNA, with human artificial chromosomes that contain discontinuous blocks of higher-order alpha-satellite DNA and noncentromeric DNA. The underlying sequence did not correlate with chromatin states, because both higher-order alpha-satellite DNA and noncentromeric DNA were enriched for modifications that define CEN chromatin, euchromatin, and heterochromatin. Human artificial chromosomes were also organized into distinct domains. CENP-A and heterochromatin were assembled over noncentromeric DNA, including the gene blasticidin, into nonoverlapping domains. Blasticidin transcripts were enriched at sites of CENP-A binding but not at H3 methylated at lysine 9, indicating that formation of CEN chromatin within a repetitive DNA environment does not preclude gene expression. Finally, we tested the role of centric heterochromatin as a centromeric boundary by increasing CENP-A dosage to expand the CEN domain. In response, H3 lysine 9 dimethylation, but not trimethylation, was markedly decreased at all centromeres examined. We propose that human centromere regions normally exist in a dynamic state in which a regional boundary, defined by H3 lysine 9 dimethylation, separates CEN chromatin from constitutive heterochromatin.

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