Since their description in the late 1990s, Human Artificial Chromosomes (HACs) bearing functional kinetochores have been considered as promising systems for gene delivery and expression. More recently a HAC assembled from a synthetic alphoid DNA array has been exploited in studies of centromeric chromatin and in assessing the impact of different epigenetic modifications on kinetochore structure and function in human cells. This HAC was termed the alphoidtetO-HAC, as the synthetic monomers each contained a tetO sequence in place of the CENP-B box that can be targeted specifically with tetR-fusion proteins. Studies in which the kinetochore chromatin of the alphoidtetO-HAC was specifically modified, revealed that heterochromatin is incompatible with centromere function and that centromeric transcription is important for centromere assembly and maintenance. In addition, the alphoidtetO-HAC was modified to carry large gene inserts that are expressed in target cells under conditions that recapitulate the physiological regulation of endogenous loci. Importantly, the phenotypes arising from stable gene expression can be reversed when cells are "cured" of the HAC by inactivating its kinetochore in proliferating cell populations, a feature that provides a control for phenotypic changes attributed to expression of HAC-encoded genes. AlphoidtetO-HAC-based technology has also been used to develop new drug screening and assessment strategies to manipulate the CIN phenotype in cancer cells. In summary, the alphoidtetO-HAC is proving to be a versatile tool for studying human chromosome transactions and structure as well as for genome and cancer studies.
Keywords: CIN; HAC; chromosome instability; gene delivery vector; human artificial chromosome; kinetochore.