Centromeric chromatin exhibits a histone modification pattern that is distinct from both euchromatin and heterochromatin.
Post-translational histone modifications regulate epigenetic switching between different chromatin states. Distinct histone modifications, such as acetylation, methylation and phosphorylation, define different functional chromatin domains, and often do so in a combinatorial fashion. The centromere is a unique chromosomal locus that mediates multiple segregation functions, including kinetochore formation, spindle-mediated movements, sister cohesion and a mitotic checkpoint. Centromeric (CEN) chromatin is embedded in heterochromatin and contains blocks of histone H3 nucleosomes interspersed with blocks of CENP-A nucleosomes, the histone H3 variant that provides a structural and functional foundation for the kinetochore. Here, we demonstrate that the spectrum of histone modifications present in human and Drosophila melanogaster CEN chromatin is distinct from that of both euchromatin and flanking heterochromatin. We speculate that this distinct modification pattern contributes to the unique domain organization and three-dimensional structure of centromeric regions, and/or to the epigenetic information that determines centromere identity.
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