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Curr Biol. 2002 Oct 1;12(19):1652-60.

cis-acting DNA from fission yeast centromeres mediates histone H3 methylation and recruitment of silencing factors and cohesin to an ectopic site.

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  • 1MRC Human Genetics Unit, Crewe Road, EH4 2XU, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.



Metazoan centromeres are generally composed of large repetitive DNA structures packaged in heterochromatin. Similarly, fission yeast centromeres contain large inverted repeats and two distinct silenced domains that are both required for centromere function. The central domain is flanked by outer repetitive elements coated in histone H3 methylated on lysine 9 and bound by conserved heterochromatin proteins. This centromeric heterochromatin is required for cohesion between sister centromeres. Defective heterochromatin causes premature sister chromatid separation and chromosome missegregation. The role of cis-acting DNA sequences in the formation of centromeric heterochromatin has not been established.


A deletion strategy was used to identify centromeric sequences that allow heterochromatin formation in fission yeast. Fragments from the outer repeats are sufficient to cause silencing of an adjacent gene when inserted at a euchromatic chromosomal locus. This silencing is accompanied by the local de novo methylation of histone H3 on lysine 9, recruitment of known heterochromatin components, Swi6 and Chp1, and the provision of a new strong cohesin binding site. In addition, we demonstrate that the chromodomain of Chp1 binds to MeK9-H3 and that Chp1 itself is required for methylation of histone H3 on lysine 9.


A short sequence, reiterated at fission yeast centromeres, can direct silent chromatin assembly and cohesin recruitment in a dominant manner. The heterochromatin formed at the euchromatic locus is indistinguishable from that found at endogenous centromeres. Recruitment of Rad21-cohesin underscores the link between heterochromatin and chromatid cohesion and indicates that these centromeric elements act independently of kinetochore activity to recruit cohesin.

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