We have combined in vivo and in vitro approaches to investigate the function of CENP-B, a major protein of human centromeric heterochromatin. Expression of epitope-tagged deletion derivatives of CENP-B in HeLa cells revealed that a single domain less than 158 residues from the amino terminus of the protein is sufficient to localize CENP-B to centromeres. Centromere localization was abolished if as few as 28 amino acids were removed from the amino terminus of CENP-B. The centromere localization signal of CENP-B can function in an autonomous fashion, relocating a fused bacterial enzyme to centromeres. The centromere localization domain of CENP-B specifically binds in vitro to a subset of alpha-satellite DNA monomers. These results suggest that the primary mechanism for localization of CENP-B to centromeres involves the recognition of a DNA sequence found at centromeres. Analysis of the distribution of this sequence in alpha-satellite DNA suggests that CENP-B binding may have profound effects on chromatin structure at centromeres.

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