CENP-A chromatin prevents replication stress at centromeres to avoid structural aneuploidy

Simona Giunta, Solène Hervé, Ryan R White, Therese Wilhelm, Marie Dumont, Andrea Scelfo, Riccardo Gamba, Cheng Kit Wong, Giulia Rancati, Agata Smogorzewska, Hironori Funabiki, Daniele Fachinetti

Published in PNAS Mar 9; 118(10): e2015634118 (Link)


CENP-A, the histone H3 variant that forms a unique centromeric chromatin, is essential for faithful chromosome segregation during mitosis. Inability to connect the centromere to the mitotic spindle causes aneuploidy, a hallmark of many cancers. In addition to chromosome missegregation, chromosome fusions at (peri)centromeres are prevalent in cancers, but how such rearrangements arise remains unclear. Here, we identified a role for CENP-A in maintaining the integrity of centromere-associated repetitive sequences by ensuring their effective replication in human cells. In the absence of CENP-A, generation of DNA–RNA hybrids due to transcription–replication conflicts causes delayed DNA replication, centromere breakage, recombination, and chromosome translocations at centromeres. Centromeres thus possess a special mechanism to facilitate their replication and suppress chromosome translocations.


CENP-A chromatin; DNA replication stress; centromere; chromosome translocations; genome instability.


Chromosome segregation relies on centromeres, yet their repetitive DNA is often prone to aberrant rearrangements under pathological conditions. Factors that maintain centromere integrity to prevent centromere-associated chromosome translocations are unknown. Here, we demonstrate the importance of the centromere-specific histone H3 variant CENP-A in safeguarding DNA replication of alpha-satellite repeats to prevent structural aneuploidy. Rapid removal of CENP-A in S phase, but not other cell-cycle stages, caused accumulation of R loops with increased centromeric transcripts, and interfered with replication fork progression. Replication without CENP-A causes recombination at alpha-satellites in an R loop-dependent manner, unfinished replication, and anaphase bridges. In turn, chromosome breakage and translocations arise specifically at centromeric regions. Our findings provide insights into how specialized centromeric chromatin maintains the integrity of transcribed noncoding repetitive DNA during S phase.