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PLoS Genet. 2009 Nov;5(11):e1000743. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000743. Epub 2009 Nov 20.

Maize centromere structure and evolution: sequence analysis of centromeres 2 and 5 reveals dynamic Loci shaped primarily by retrotransposons.

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Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.


We describe a comprehensive and general approach for mapping centromeres and present a detailed characterization of two maize centromeres. Centromeres are difficult to map and analyze because they consist primarily of repetitive DNA sequences, which in maize are the tandem satellite repeat CentC and interspersed centromeric retrotransposons of maize (CRM). Centromeres are defined epigenetically by the centromeric histone H3 variant, CENH3. Using novel markers derived from centromere repeats, we have mapped all ten centromeres onto the physical and genetic maps of maize. We were able to completely traverse centromeres 2 and 5, confirm physical maps by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), and delineate their functional regions by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) with anti-CENH3 antibody followed by pyrosequencing. These two centromeres differ substantially in size, apparent CENH3 density, and arrangement of centromeric repeats; and they are larger than the rice centromeres characterized to date. Furthermore, centromere 5 consists of two distinct CENH3 domains that are separated by several megabases. Succession of centromere repeat classes is evidenced by the fact that elements belonging to the recently active recombinant subgroups of CRM1 colonize the present day centromeres, while elements of the ancestral subgroups are also found in the flanking regions. Using abundant CRM and non-CRM retrotransposons that inserted in and near these two centromeres to create a historical record of centromere location, we show that maize centromeres are fluid genomic regions whose borders are heavily influenced by the interplay of retrotransposons and epigenetic marks. Furthermore, we propose that CRMs may be involved in removal of centromeric DNA (specifically CentC), invasion of centromeres by non-CRM retrotransposons, and local repositioning of the CENH3.

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