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Defining the consequences of endogenous genetic variation within a novel family of Schizosaccharomyces pombe heterochromatin nucleating sequences

Arati Joshi, Meryl J Musicante,
G3 Genes|Genomes|Genetics ; doi:10.1093/g3journal/jkab185

Abstract: Centromeres are essential for genetic inheritance—they prevent aneuploidy by providing a physical link between DNA and chromosome segregation machinery. In many organisms, centromeres form at sites of repetitive DNAs that help establish the chromatin architecture required for centromere function. These repeats are often rapidly evolving and subject to homogenization, which causes the expansion of novel repeats and sequence turnover. Thus, centromere sequence varies between individuals and across species. This variation can affect centromere function. We utilized Schizosaccharomyces pombe to assess the relationship between centromere sequence and chromatin structure and determine how sensitive this relationship is to genetic variation. In S. pombe, nucleating sequences within centromere repeats recruit heterochromatin via multiple mechanisms, which include RNA-interference (RNAi). Heterochromatin, in turn, contributes to centromere function through its participation in three essential processes; establishment of a kinetochore, cohesion of sister chromatids, and suppression of recombination. Here, we show that a centromere element containing RevCen, a target of the RNAi pathway, establishes heterochromatin and gene silencing when relocated to a chromosome arm. Within this RevCen-containing element (RCE), a highly conserved domain is necessary for full heterochromatin nucleation but cannot establish heterochromatin independently. We characterize the 10 unique RCEs in the S. pombe centromere assembly, which range from 60% to 99.6% identical, and show that all are sufficient to establish heterochromatin. These data affirm the importance of centromere repeats in establishing heterochromatin and suggest there is flexibility within the sequences that mediate this process. Such flexibility may preserve centromere function despite the rapid evolution of centromere repeats.
Keywords: centromere / heterochromatin / repetitive DNA / fission yeast / chromatin

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