For decades, satellite DNAs have been the hidden part of genomes. Initially considered as junk DNA, there is currently an increasing appreciation of the functional significance of satellite DNA repeats and of their sequences. Satellite DNA families accumulate in the heterochromatin in different parts of the eukaryotic chromosomes, mainly in pericentromeric and subtelomeric regions, but they also span the functional centromere. Tandem repeat sequences may spread from subtelomeric to interstitial loci, leading to the formation of chromosome-specific loci or to the accumulation in equilocal sites in different chromosomes. They also appear as the main components of the heterochromatin in the sex-specific region of sex chromosomes. Satellite DNA, required for chromosome organization, also plays a role in pairing and segregation. Some satellite repeats are transcribed and can participate in the formation and maintenance of heterochromatin structure and in the modulation of gene expression. In addition to the identification of the different satellite DNA families, their characteristics and location, we are interested in determining their impact on the genomes, by identifying the mechanisms leading to their appearance and amplification as well as in understanding how they change over time, the factors affecting these changes, and the influence exerted by the evolutionary history of the organisms. On the other hand, satellite DNA sequences are rapidly evolving sequences that may cause reproductive barriers between organisms and promote speciation. The accumulation of experimental data collected in recent years and the emergence of new approaches based on next-generation sequencing and high-throughput genome analysis are opening new perspectives that are changing our understanding of satellite DNA. This review examines recent data to provide a timely update on the overall information gathered about this part of the genome, focusing on the advances in the knowledge of its origin, its evolution, and its potential functional roles.
© 2015 S. Karger AG, Basel.