New insights into centromere organization and evolution from the white-cheeked gibbon and marmoset

Mol Biol Evol. 2009 Aug;26(8):1889-900. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msp101. Epub 2009 May 8.


The evolutionary history of alpha-satellite DNA, the major component of primate centromeres, is hardly defined because of the difficulty in its sequence assembly and its rapid evolution when compared with most genomic sequences. By using several approaches, we have cloned, sequenced, and characterized alpha-satellite sequences from two species representing critical nodes in the primate phylogeny: the white-cheeked gibbon, a lesser ape, and marmoset, a New World monkey. Sequence analyses demonstrate that white-cheeked gibbon and marmoset alpha-satellite sequences are formed by units of approximately 171 and approximately 342 bp, respectively, and they both lack the high-order structure found in humans and great apes. Fluorescent in situ hybridization characterization shows a broad dispersal of alpha-satellite in the white-cheeked gibbon genome including centromeric, telomeric, and chromosomal interstitial localizations. On the other hand, centromeres in marmoset appear organized in highly divergent dimers roughly of 342 bp that show a similarity between monomers much lower than previously reported dimers, thus representing an ancient dimeric structure. All these data shed light on the evolution of the centromeric sequences in Primates. Our results suggest radical differences in the structure, organization, and evolution of alpha-satellite DNA among different primate species, supporting the notion that 1) all the centromeric sequence in Primates evolved by genomic amplification, unequal crossover, and sequence homogenization using a 171 bp monomer as the basic seeding unit and 2) centromeric function is linked to relatively short repeated elements, more than higher-order structure. Moreover, our data indicate that complex higher-order repeat structures are a peculiarity of the hominid lineage, showing the more complex organization in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Callithrix / genetics*
  • Cell Line
  • Centromere / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Hylobates / genetics*
  • Primates / genetics