The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 53: 259 - 268 (2009)

Vol 53, Issue 2-3

Special Issue: Epigenetics & Development

The secret message of heterochromatin: new insights into the mechanisms and function of centromeric and pericentric repeat sequence transcription

Open Access | Review | Published: 20 April 2009

Angeline Eymery, Mary Callanan* and Claire Vourc’h*

Université Joseph Fourier, INSERM, Institut Albert Bonniot, U823, F-38706, Grenoble, France.


In the fission yeast, S. Pombe, small dsRNA generated by RNAi-dependent mechanisms are involved in the establishment and maintenance of heterochromatic regions. The existence of conserved features within the general organization of centromeric and pericentromeric repeats in yeast, mouse and human argues in favor of a conserved role for centromeric and pericentromeric-derived transcripts across these species. In support of this, evidence is accumulating that centromeric and pericentromeric sequences are transcriptionally competent in diverse biological contexts in mammalian cells. Given the importance of centromeric and pericentromeric regions, not only with respect to centromere function, but also to gene regulation, this review examines the biological contexts in which mouse and human centromeric and pericentromeric-specific transcripts have been observed. The structure of the transcripts generated, the molecular mechanisms underlying their expression and their supposed functions will be discussed.


heterochromatin, satellite sequence, transcription, epigenetics, RNA processing

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