Due to indications that kinetochore proteins are an integral part of the protein scaffold component of the chromosome (Earnshaw et al. 1984), we chose to map the distribution of scaffold attachment regions (SARs) at centromeres. Using the SAR mapping assay of Mirkovitch et al., Southern blots were prepared and probed with 32P-labeled fragments from the human 1.9 kb centromeric alpha-satellite repeat unit of chromosome 1 or the 1.7 kb centromeric alpha-satellite repeat unit of chromosome 16. Our results demonstrated the presence of one SAR site per 1.9 kb repeat unit in chromosome 1, and every 1.7 kb repeat unit in chromosome 16, separated by regions of small DNA loops over the length of the alpha-satellite regions. We also identified several in vitro vertebrate topoisomerase II and cenP-B consensus sequences throughout the chromosome 1 alpha-satellite region using computer and base ratio analysis, to address the question as to why some alpha-satellite regions are SAR related and others are not. To provide in situ indications of SAR localization in the human genome, SAR DNA and non-SAR DNA were prepared following lithium 3,5-di-iodosalicylate extraction. Sequences protected from DNAse I digestion by SAR proteins, as compared with unprotected DNA that was digested by the enzyme, was labeled with biotin-UTP, hybridized to chromosomal DNA in situ, and then detected with fluorescein-avidin-DCS. Both SAR and non-SAR DNA selectively labeled virtually all centromeric regions of the human metaphase karyotype. Chromosomal arms were less strongly bound by SAR DNA, with a pattern that followed the chromosomal axis. In the more condensed chromosomes an R-banding pattern was evident. In general, labeling patterns produced by both SAR and non-SAR fractions were similar, as expected from the indications that SAR DNAs are heterogenous in sequence and do not form a specific class of sequences. We conclude that centromeric regions of several, possibly all, human metaphase chromosomes are also regions where the chromosomal axis contains loops, smaller in size than in the arms and where attachment sites are concentrated. This clustering of SARs may be responsible in part for the tight chromatin packing associated with the primary constriction of the centromeric region.