, Volume 13, Issue 8, pp 745-762
Date: 08 Dec 2005

Engineered human dicentric chromosomes show centromere plasticity

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Abstract

The centromere is essential for the faithful distribution of a cell's genetic material to subsequent generations. Despite intense scrutiny, the precise genetic and epigenetic basis for centromere function is still unknown. Here, we have used engineered dicentric human chromosomes to investigate mammalian centromere structure and function. We describe three classes of dicentric chromosomes isolated in different cell lines: functionally monocentric chromosomes, in which one of the two genetically identical centromeres is consistently inactivated; functionally dicentric chromosomes, in which both centromeres are consistently active; and dicentric chromosomes heterogeneous with respect to centromere activity. A study of serial single cell clones from heterogeneous cell lines revealed that while centromere activity is usually clonal, the centromere state (i.e. functionally monocentric or dicentric) in some lines can switch within a growing population of cells. Because pulsed field gel analysis indicated that the DNA at the centromeres of these chromosomes did not change detectably, this switching of the centromere state is most likely due to epigenetic changes. Inactivation of one of the two active centromeres in a functionally dicentric chromosome was observed in a percentage of cells after treatment with Trichostatin A, an inhibitor of histone deacetylation. This study provides evidence that the activity of human centromeres, while largely stable, can be subject to dynamic change, most likely due to epigenetic modification.