Epigenetic Basis of Centromere Maintenance and Inheritance

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Sullivan, Beth A

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Centromeres are essential chromosomal loci at which kinetochore formation occurs for spindle fiber attachment during mitosis and meiosis, guiding proper segregation of chromosomes. In humans, centromeres are located at large arrays of alpha satellite DNA, contributing to but not defining centromere function. The histone variant CENP-A assembles at alpha satellite DNA, epigenetically defining the centromere. CENP-A containing chromatin exists as an essential domain composed of blocks of CENP-A nucleosomes interspersed with blocks of H3 nucleosomes, and is surrounded by pericentromeric heterochromatin. In order to maintain genomic stability, the CENP-A domain is propagated epigenetically over each cell division; disruption of propagation is associated with chromosome instabilities such as aneuploidy, found in birth defects and in cancer.

The CENP-A chromatin domain occupies 30-45% of the alpha satellite array, varying in genomic distance according to the underlying array size. However, the molecular mechanisms that control assembly and organization of CENP-A chromatin within its genomic context remain unclear. The domain may shift, expand, or contract, as CENP-A is loaded and dispersed each cell cycle. We hypothesized that in order to maintain genome stability, the centromere is inherited as static chromatin domains, maintaining size and position within the pericentric heterochromatin. Utilizing stretched chromatin fibers, I found that CENP-A chromatin is limited to a sub-region of the alpha satellite array that is fixed in size and location through the cell cycle and across populations.

The average amount of CENP-A at human centromeres is largely consistent, implying that the variation in size of CENP-A domains reflects variations in the number of CENP-A subdomains and/or the density of CENP-A nucleosomes. Multi-color nascent protein labeling experiments were utilized to examine the distribution and incorporation of distinct pools of CENP-A over several cell cycles. I found that in each cell cycle there is independent CENP-A distribution, occurring equally between sister centromeres across all chromosomes, in similar quantities. Furthermore, centromere inheritance is achieved through specific placement of CENP-A, following an oscillating pattern that fixes the location and size of the CENP-A domain. These results suggest that spatial and temporal dynamics of CENP-A are important for maintaining centromere and genome stability.





Ross, Justyne Eliza (2016). Epigenetic Basis of Centromere Maintenance and Inheritance. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/12873.


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