Centromere protein (CENP) A, a histone H3 variant, is a key epigenetic determinant of chromosome domains known as centromeres. Centromeres nucleate kinetochores, multi-subunit complexes that capture spindle microtubules to promote chromosome segregation during mitosis. Two kinetochore proteins, CENP-C and CENP-N, recognize CENP-A in the context of a rare CENP-A nucleosome. Here, we reveal the structural basis for the exquisite selectivity of CENP-N for centromeres. CENP-N uses charge and space complementarity to decode the L1 loop that is unique to CENP-A. It also engages in extensive interactions with a 15-base pair segment of the distorted nucleosomal DNA double helix, in a position predicted to exclude chromatin remodelling enzymes. Besides CENP-A, stable centromere recruitment of CENP-N requires a coincident interaction with a newly identified binding motif on nucleosome-bound CENP-C. Collectively, our studies clarify how CENP-N and CENP-C decode and stabilize the non-canonical CENP-A nucleosome to enforce epigenetic centromere specification and kinetochore assembly.
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Pentakota, Satyakrishna; Zhou, Keda; Smith, Charlotte; Maffini, Stefano; Petrovic, Arsen; Morgan, Garry P; Weir, John R; Vetter, Ingrid R; Musacchio, Andrea; and Luger, Karolin, "Decoding the centromeric nucleosome through CENP-N." (2017). Chemistry & Biochemistry Faculty Contributions. 86.