The pathway of molecular interactions leading to kinetochore assembly on mammalian chromosomes is unknown. Kinetochores could be specified by structural features of centromeric satellite DNA [1-3] or by specific DNA sequences, analogous to budding yeast centromeres, interspersed in centromeric satellite DNA arrays [4,5]. Alternatively, kinetochores could be epigenetic structures that replicate without strict dependence on DNA sequence [6-8]. We purified kinetochore-associated chromatin from human chromosomes by immunoprecipitation of CENP-A, a centromere-specific histone H3 homologue located in the inner plate of the kinetochore [6,9,10]. Hybridization and DNA sequence analyses of cloned kinetochore DNA fragments revealed alpha-satellite as the predominant sequence associated with CENP-A. A major site of micrococcal nuclease digestion was identified by mapping the termini of alpha-satellite clones, suggesting that the inner kinetochore plate contains phased arrays of CENP-A-alpha-satellite nucleosomes. These experiments demonstrate for the first time that complex satellite DNA is a structural component of the kinetochore. Further, because complex satellite DNA is evolutionarily unconserved, these results suggest that molecular recognition events necessary for kinetochore formation take place at the level of DNA conformation or epigenetic mechanisms rather than DNA sequence per se.