Genomic size of CENP-A domain is proportional to total alpha satellite array size at human centromeres and expands in cancer cells.

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Human centromeres contain multi-megabase-sized arrays of alpha satellite DNA, a family of satellite DNA repeats based on a tandemly arranged 171 bp monomer. The centromere-specific histone protein CENP-A is assembled on alpha satellite DNA within the primary constriction, but does not extend along its entire length. CENP-A domains have been estimated to extend over 2,500 kb of alpha satellite DNA. However, these estimates do not take into account inter-individual variation in alpha satellite array sizes on homologous chromosomes and among different chromosomes. We defined the genomic distance of CENP-A chromatin on human chromosomes X and Y from different individuals. CENP-A chromatin occupied different genomic intervals on different chromosomes, but despite inter-chromosomal and inter-individual array size variation, the ratio of CENP-A to total alpha satellite DNA size remained consistent. Changes in the ratio of alpha satellite array size to CENP-A domain size were observed when CENP-A was overexpressed and when primary cells were transformed by disrupting interactions between the tumor suppressor protein Rb and chromatin. Our data support a model for centromeric domain organization in which the genomic limits of CENP-A chromatin varies on different human chromosomes, and imply that alpha satellite array size may be a more prominent predictor of CENP-A incorporation than chromosome size. In addition, our results also suggest that cancer transformation and amounts of centromeric heterochromatin have notable effects on the amount of alpha satellite that is associated with CENP-A chromatin.





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Sullivan, Lori L, Christopher D Boivin, Brankica Mravinac, Ihn Young Song and Beth A Sullivan (2011). Genomic size of CENP-A domain is proportional to total alpha satellite array size at human centromeres and expands in cancer cells. Chromosome Res, 19(4). pp. 457–470. 10.1007/s10577-011-9208-5 Retrieved from

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Beth Ann Sullivan

James B. Duke Distinguished Professor

Research in the Sullivan Lab is focused on chromosome organization, with a specific emphasis on the genomics and epigenetics of the chromosomal locus called the centromere. The centromere is a specialized chromosomal site involved in chromosome architecture and movement, and when defective, is linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility. The lab has described a unique type of chromatin (CEN chromatin) that forms exclusively at the centromere by replacement of core histone H3 by the centromeric histone variant CENP-A. Their studies also explore the composition of CEN chromatin and its relationship to the underlying highly repetitive alpha satellite DNA at the centromere. The Sullivan lab also discovered that genomic variation within alpha satellite DNA affects where the centromere is built and how well it functions. The Sullivan lab was part of the Telomere-to-Telomere T2T Consortium that used ultra long read sequencing and optical mapping to completely assemble each human chromosome, including through millions of basepairs of alpha satellite DNA at each centromere. Dr. Sullivan's group also builds human artificial chromosomes (HACs), using them as tools to test components required for a viable, transmissible chromosome and to study centromeric transcription and chromosome stability. The lab also studies formation and fate of chromosome abnormalities associated with birth defects, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer. Specifically, they study chromosomal abnormalities with two centromeres, called dicentric chromosomes. Originally described by Nobelist Barbara McClintock in the 1930s, dicentrics in most organisms are considered inherently unstable chromosomes because they trigger genome instability. However, dicentric chromosomes in humans are very stable and are often transmitted through multiple generations of a family. Using several approaches to experimentally reproduce dicentric chromosomes in human cells, the lab explores mechanisms of dicentric formation and their long-term fate.

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