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Pericentric heterochromatin, while often considered as "junk" DNA, plays important functions in chromosome biology. It contributes to sister chromatid cohesion, a process mediated by the cohesin complex that ensures proper genome segregation during nuclear division. Long stretches of heterochromatin are almost exclusively placed at centromere-proximal regions but it remains unclear if there is functional (or mechanistic) importance in linking the sites of sister chromatid cohesion to the chromosomal regions that mediate spindle attachment (the centromere). Using engineered chromosomes in Drosophila melanogaster, we demonstrate that cohesin enrichment is dictated by the presence of heterochromatin rather than centromere proximity. This preferential accumulation is caused by an enrichment of the cohesin-loading factor (Nipped-B/NIPBL/Scc2) at dense heterochromatic regions. As a result, chromosome translocations containing ectopic pericentric heterochromatin embedded in euchromatin display additional cohesin-dependent constrictions. These ectopic cohesion sites, placed away from the centromere, disjoin abnormally during anaphase and chromosomes exhibit a significant increase in length during anaphase (termed chromatin stretching). These results provide evidence that long stretches of heterochromatin distant from the centromere, as often found in many cancers, are sufficient to induce abnormal accumulation of cohesin at these sites and thereby compromise the fidelity of chromosome segregation.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pbio.1001962

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS Biol

Publication Date

10/2014

Volume

12

Keywords

Anaphase, Animals, Animals, Genetically Modified, Cell Cycle Proteins, Centromere, Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone, Chromosomes, Insect, DNA-Binding Proteins, Drosophila Proteins, Drosophila melanogaster, Heterochromatin, Male