Heterochromatin and RNAi regulate centromeres by protecting CENP-A from ubiquitin-mediated degradation

PLoS Genet. 2018 Aug 8;14(8):e1007572. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007572. eCollection 2018 Aug.


Centromere is a specialized chromatin domain that plays a vital role in chromosome segregation. In most eukaryotes, centromere is surrounded by the epigenetically distinct heterochromatin domain. Heterochromatin has been shown to contribute to centromere function, but the precise role of heterochromatin in centromere specification remains elusive. Centromeres in most eukaryotes, including fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe), are defined epigenetically by the histone H3 (H3) variant CENP-A. In contrast, the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae has genetically-defined point centromeres. The transition between regional centromeres and point centromeres is considered as one of the most dramatic evolutionary events in centromere evolution. Here we demonstrated that Cse4, the budding yeast CENP-A homolog, can localize to centromeres in fission yeast and partially substitute fission yeast CENP-ACnp1. But overexpression of Cse4 results in its localization to heterochromatic regions. Cse4 is subject to efficient ubiquitin-dependent degradation in S. pombe, and its N-terminal domain dictates its centromere distribution via ubiquitination. Notably, without heterochromatin and RNA interference (RNAi), Cse4 fails to associate with centromeres. We showed that RNAi-dependent heterochromatin mediates centromeric localization of Cse4 by protecting Cse4 from ubiquitin-dependent degradation. Heterochromatin also contributes to the association of native CENP-ACnp1 with centromeres via the same mechanism. These findings suggest that protection of CENP-A from degradation by heterochromatin is a general mechanism used for centromere assembly, and also provide novel insights into centromere evolution.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Centromere / genetics*
  • Centromere / metabolism
  • Centromere Protein A / genetics
  • Centromere Protein A / metabolism*
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / genetics
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / metabolism*
  • Chromosome Segregation
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal
  • Genetic Variation
  • Heterochromatin / genetics*
  • Histones / genetics
  • Histones / metabolism
  • RNA Interference*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins / metabolism*
  • Schizosaccharomyces / genetics
  • Schizosaccharomyces / metabolism
  • Schizosaccharomyces pombe Proteins / genetics
  • Schizosaccharomyces pombe Proteins / metabolism
  • Ubiquitin / metabolism*
  • Ubiquitination


  • CSE4 protein, S cerevisiae
  • Centromere Protein A
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone
  • Cnp1 protein, S pombe
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Heterochromatin
  • Histones
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins
  • Schizosaccharomyces pombe Proteins
  • Ubiquitin