Comparative Analyses of Gibbon Centromeres Reveal Dynamic Genus-Specific Shifts in Repeat Composition

Gabrielle A. Hartley, Mariam Okhovat, Rachel J. O'Neill, Lucia Carbone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Centromeres are functionally conserved chromosomal loci essential for proper chromosome segregation during cell division, yet they show high sequence diversity across species. Despite their variation, a near universal feature of centromeres is the presence of repetitive sequences, such as DNA satellites and transposable elements (TEs). Because of their rapidly evolving karyotypes, gibbons represent a compelling model to investigate divergence of functional centromere sequences across short evolutionary timescales. In this study, we use ChIP-seq, RNA-seq, and fluorescence in situ hybridization to comprehensively investigate the centromeric repeat content of the four extant gibbon genera (Hoolock, Hylobates, Nomascus, and Siamang). In all gibbon genera, we find that CENP-A nucleosomes and the DNA-proteins that interface with the inner kinetochore preferentially bind retroelements of broad classes rather than satellite DNA. A previously identified gibbon-specific composite retrotransposon, LAVA, known to be expanded within the centromere regions of one gibbon genus (Hoolock), displays centromere- and species-specific sequence differences, potentially as a result of its co-option to a centromeric function. When dissecting centromere satellite composition, we discovered the presence of the retroelement-derived macrosatellite SST1 in multiple centromeres of Hoolock, whereas alpha-satellites represent the predominate satellite in the other genera, further suggesting an independent evolutionary trajectory for Hoolock centromeres. Finally, using de novo assembly of centromere sequences, we determined that transcripts originating from gibbon centromeres recapitulate the species-specific TE composition. Combined, our data reveal dynamic shifts in the repeat content that define gibbon centromeres and coincide with the extensive karyotypic diversity within this lineage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3972-3992
Number of pages21
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021


  • centromeres
  • chromosome evolution
  • gibbon
  • primate genomics
  • satellite DNA
  • transposable elements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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