Centromere structure and function are defined by the epigenetic modification of histones at centromeric and pericentromeric chromatin. The constitutive heterochromatin found at pericentromeric regions is highly enriched for H3K9me3 and H4K20me3. Although mis-expression of the methyltransferase enzymes that regulate these marks, Suv39 and Suv420, is common in disease, the consequences of such changes are not well understood. Our data show that increased centromere localization of Suv39 and Suv420 suppresses centromere transcription and compromises localization of the mitotic kinase Aurora B, decreasing microtubule dynamics and compromising chromosome alignment and segregation. We find that inhibition of Suv420 methyltransferase activity partially restores Aurora B localization to centromeres and that restoration of the Aurora B-containing chromosomal passenger complex to the centromere is sufficient to suppress mitotic errors that result when Suv420 and H4K20me3 is enriched at centromeres. Consistent with a role for Suv39 and Suv420 in negatively regulating Aurora B, high expression of these enzymes corresponds with increased sensitivity to Aurora kinase inhibition in human cancer cells, suggesting that increased H3K9 and H4K20 methylation may be an underappreciated source of chromosome mis-segregation in cancer.

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