Centromeres are dictated by the epigenetic inheritance of the centromeric nucleosome containing the centromere-specific histone H3 variant, CENP-A. The structure of the CENP-A nucleosome has been considered to be the fundamental architecture of the centromeric chromatin. Controversy exists in the literature regarding the CENP-A nucleosome structures, with octasome, hemisome, compact octasome, hexasome, and tetrasome models being reported. Some of these CENPA nucleosome models may correspond to transient intermediates for the assembly of the mature CENP-A nucleosome; however, their significances are still unclear. Therefore, the structure of the mature CENP-A nucleosome has been eagerly awaited. We reconstituted the human CENP-A nucleosome with its cognate centromeric DNA fragment, and determined its crystal structure. In this review, we describe the structure and the physical properties of the CENP-A nucleosome, and discuss their implications for centromeric chromatin architecture.
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