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Trends Genet. 1997 Dec;13(12):489-96.

The case for epigenetic effects on centromere identity and function.

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Molecular Biology and Virology Laboratory, Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


The centromere is required to ensure the equal distribution of replicated chromosomes to daughter nuclei. Centromeres are frequently associated with heterochromatin, an enigmatic nuclear component that causes the epigenetic transcriptional repression of nearby marker genes (position-effect variegation or silencing). The process of chromosome segregation by movement along microtubules to spindle poles is highly conserved, yet the putative cis-acting centromeric DNA sequences bear little or no similarity across species. Recently, studies in several systems have revealed that the centromere itself might be epigenetically regulated and that the higher-order structure of the underlying heterochromatin contributes to centromere function and kinetochore assembly.

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