Centromeres are defined by the presence of CENH3, a variant of histone H3. Centromeres in most plant species contain exclusively highly repetitive DNA sequences, which has hindered research on structure and function of centromeric chromatin. Several maize centromeres have been nearly completely sequenced, providing a sequence-based platform for genomic and epigenomic research of plant centromeres. Here we report a high resolution map of CENH3 nucleosomes in the maize genome. Although CENH3 nucleosomes are spaced ~190 bp on average, CENH3 nucleosomes that occupied CentC, a 156-bp centromeric satellite repeat, showed clear positioning aligning with CentC monomers. Maize centromeres contain alternating CENH3-enriched and CENH3-depleted subdomains, which accounted for 87% and 13% of the centromeres, respectively. A number of annotated genes were identified in the centromeres, including 11 active genes that were exclusively located in CENH3-depleted subdomains. The euchromatic histone modification marks, including H3K4me3, H3K36me3 and H3K9ac, detected in maize centromeres were mainly associated with the active genes. Interestingly, maize centromeres also have lower levels of the heterochromatin histone modification mark H3K27me2 relative to pericentromeric regions. We conclude that neither H3K27me2 nor the three euchromatic histone modifications are likely to serve as functionally important epigenetic marks of centromere identity in maize.
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