In mammals, the X chromosome is unique in being capable of complete inactivation. Such X inactivation evolved to compensate for gene dosage differences between females with two X chromosomes and males with one. Transcriptional silencing of a single female X chromosome is controlled in cis by Xist, whose RNA product coats the inactive X chromosome (Xi), and the X-inactivation centre (Xic). A transgenic study limited the Xic to 450 kilobases including Xist, and demonstrated that it is sufficient to initiate X inactivation. Here we report that ectopic Xist RNA completely coats transgenic chromosome 12. Expression of genes over 50 centimorgans was reduced two-fold and was detected only from the normal homologue in fibroblasts. Moreover, ectopic Xic action resulted in chromosome-wide changes that are characteristic of the X(i): DNA replication was delayed, and histone H4 was markedly hypoacetylated. Our findings suggest long-range cis effects on the autosome similar to those of X inactivation, and imply that the Xic can both initiate X inactivation and drive heterochromatin formation. Thus, the potential for chromosome-wide gene regulation is not intrinsic to X-chromosome DNA, but can also occur on autosomes possessing the Xic.