Alpha satellite DNA biology: finding function in the recesses of the genome.
Repetitive DNA, formerly referred to by the misnomer "junk DNA," comprises a majority of the human genome. One class of this DNA, alpha satellite, comprises up to 10% of the genome. Alpha satellite is enriched at all human centromere regions and is competent for de novo centromere assembly. Because of the highly repetitive nature of alpha satellite, it has been difficult to achieve genome assemblies at centromeres using traditional next-generation sequencing approaches, and thus, centromeres represent gaps in the current human genome assembly. Moreover, alpha satellite DNA is transcribed into repetitive noncoding RNA and contributes to a large portion of the transcriptome. Recent efforts to characterize these transcripts and their function have uncovered pivotal roles for satellite RNA in genome stability, including silencing "selfish" DNA elements and recruiting centromere and kinetochore proteins. This review will describe the genomic and epigenetic features of alpha satellite DNA, discuss recent findings of noncoding transcripts produced from distinct alpha satellite arrays, and address current progress in the functional understanding of this oft-neglected repetitive sequence. We will discuss unique challenges of studying human satellite DNAs and RNAs and point toward new technologies that will continue to advance our understanding of this largely untapped portion of the genome.
McNulty, SM; Sullivan, BA
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