Cancer-associated alteration of pericentromeric heterochromatin may contribute to chromosome instability

R. B. Slee, C. M. Steiner, B. S. Herbert, G. H. Vance, R. J. Hickey, T. Schwarz, S. Christan, M. Radovich, B. P. Schneider, D. Schindelhauer, B. R. Grimes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

63 Scopus citations


Many tumors exhibit elevated chromosome mis-segregation termed chromosome instability (CIN), which is likely to be a potent driver of tumor progression and drug resistance. Causes of CIN are poorly understood but probably include prior genome tetraploidization, centrosome amplification and mitotic checkpoint defects. This study identifies epigenetic alteration of the centromere as a potential contributor to the CIN phenotype. The centromere controls chromosome segregation and consists of higher-order repeat (HOR) alpha-satellite DNA packaged into two chromatin domains: the kinetochore, harboring the centromere-specific H3 variant centromere protein A (CENP-A), and the pericentromeric heterochromatin, considered important for cohesion. Perturbation of centromeric chromatin in model systems causes CIN. As cancer cells exhibit widespread chromatin changes, we hypothesized that pericentromeric chromatin structure could also be affected, contributing to CIN. Cytological and chromatin immunoprecipitation and PCR (ChIP-PCR)-based analyses of HT1080 cancer cells showed that only one of the two HORs on chromosomes 5 and 7 incorporate CENP-A, an organization conserved in all normal and cancer-derived cells examined. Contrastingly, the heterochromatin marker H3K9me3 (trimethylation of H3 lysine 9) mapped to all four HORs and ChIP-PCR showed an altered pattern of H3K9me3 in cancer cell lines and breast tumors, consistent with a reduction on the kinetochore-forming HORs. The JMJD2B demethylase is overexpressed in breast tumors with a CIN phenotype, and overexpression of exogenous JMJD2B in cultured breast epithelial cells caused loss of centromere-associated H3K9me3 and increased CIN. These findings suggest that impaired maintenance of pericentromeric heterochromatin may contribute to CIN in cancer and be a novel therapeutic target.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3244-3253
Number of pages10
Issue number27
StatePublished - Jul 5 2012


  • chromosome instability
  • JMJD2 demethylase
  • pericentromeric heterochromatin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research
  • Genetics

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