The properties of heterochromatin are reconsidered in the context of our present understanding of gene silencing, telomeric and centromeric properties, position-effect variegation and X-chromosome inactivation. It is proposed that the chromatin in heterochromatic chromosomal regions is generally similar in its molecular composition to that in silenced chromosomal regions. Heterochromatic appearance hence reflects not a particular quality of the respective chromosomal regions but only a specific kind of chromatin packaging comparable to that required for the inactivation of genes. This packaging may be initiated by particular signals in the DNA but can be propagated over more extended chromosomal regions by the formation of multiprotein complexes that interact with histones and possibly cell-specific additional components (RNA or proteins) that determine the status of the chromosome in a particular cell type.
KeywordsGene Silence Chromosomal Region Specific Kind Additional Component Molecular Composition
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