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Annu Rev Genet. 2014;48:457-84. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genet-120213-092033. Epub 2014 Sep 18.

Centromeric heterochromatin: the primordial segregation machine.

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Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3280; email:


Centromeres are specialized domains of heterochromatin that provide the foundation for the kinetochore. Centromeric heterochromatin is characterized by specific histone modifications, a centromere-specific histone H3 variant (CENP-A), and the enrichment of cohesin, condensin, and topoisomerase II. Centromere DNA varies orders of magnitude in size from 125 bp (budding yeast) to several megabases (human). In metaphase, sister kinetochores on the surface of replicated chromosomes face away from each other, where they establish microtubule attachment and bi-orientation. Despite the disparity in centromere size, the distance between separated sister kinetochores is remarkably conserved (approximately 1 μm) throughout phylogeny. The centromere functions as a molecular spring that resists microtubule-based extensional forces in mitosis. This review explores the physical properties of DNA in order to understand how the molecular spring is built and how it contributes to the fidelity of chromosome segregation.


DNA mechanics; centromere; chromosome segregation; heterochromatin; molecular springs

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