Chromosome stability is maintained by short intercentromeric distance in functionally dicentric human Robertsonian translocations

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While the formation of a dicentric chromosome often leads to chromosome instability, human dicentric Robertsonian translocations usually remain stable. To investigate the basis for this stability, we have examined the centromeres of 15 structurally dicentric rob(13q14q) Robertsonian translocations using immunofluorescence and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). The immunofluorescence detection of centromere protein C (CENP-C) was used as a marker for centromere function as CENP-C seems to play an essential role in kinetochore structure and stability and was previously shown to be absent from inactive centromeres. In all 15 translocation-containing cell lines, CENP-C was confined to only one of the centromeres of the translocation in a fraction of the cells analyzed. This suggests that centromere inactivation commonly occurs on dicentric Robertsonian translocations and may serve as one mechanism allowing for their stability. However, in the majority of the translocations (12 out of 15), a portion of the cells analyzed displayed CENP-C immunofluorescence at both centromeres, suggesting that both centromeres were active and that the translocation was functionally dicentric. The percentage of cells with CENP-C at both centromeres ranged from 2% to 82%. These results support the hypothesis that the close proximity of two functional centromeres on Robertsonian translocations allows them to remain stable.

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