The centromere is a specialised chromosomal structure that regulates faithful chromosome segregation during cell division, as it dictates the site of assembly of the kinetochore, a critical structure that mediates binding of chromosomes to the spindle, monitors bipolar attachment and pulls chromosomes to the poles during anaphase. Identified more than a century ago as the primary constriction of condensed metaphase chromosomes, the centromere remained elusive to molecular characterisation for many years owed to its unusual enrichment in highly repetitive satellite DNA sequences, except in budding yeast. In the last decade, our understanding of centromere structure, organisation and function has increased tremendously. Nowadays, we know that centromere identity is determined epigenetically by the formation of a unique type of chromatin, which is characterised by the presence of the centromere-specific histone H3 variant CenH3, originally called CENP-A, which replaces canonical histone H3 at centromeres. CenH3-chromatin constitutes the physical and functional foundation for kinetochore assembly. This review explores recent studies addressing the structural and functional characterisation of CenH3-chromatin, its assembly and propagation during mitosis, and its contribution to kinetochore assembly.
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