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Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol. 2010;75:51-60. doi: 10.1101/sqb.2010.75.001. Epub 2010 Nov 3.

Epigenetic inheritance of centromeres.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington 98109, USA. steveh@fhcrc.org


Centromeres of higher eukaryotes are epigenetically maintained; however, the mechanism that underlies centromere inheritance is unknown. Centromere identity and inheritance require the assembly of nucleosomes containing the CenH3 histone variant in place of canonical H3. Work from our laboratory has led to the proposal that epigenetic inheritance of centromeres evolved as adaptations of CenH3 and other centromere proteins to resist drive of selfish centromeres during female meiosis. Our molecular studies have revealed that the Drosophila CenH3 nucleosome is equivalent to half of the canonical H3 nucleosome and induces positive supercoils, as opposed to the negative supercoils induced by an H3 nucleosome. CenH3 likewise induces positive supercoils in functional yeast centromeres in vivo. The right-handed wrapping of DNA around the histone core implied by positive supercoiling indicates that centromeric nucleosomes are unlikely to be octameric and that the exposed surfaces holding the nucleosome together would be available for kinetochore protein recruitment. The mutual incompatibility of nucleosomes with opposite topologies could explain how centromeres are efficiently maintained as unique loci on chromosomes. We propose that the opposite wrapping of DNA around a half-nucleosome core particle facilitates a mode of inheritance that does not depend on DNA sequence, DNA modification or protein conformation.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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