Transcriptional silencing is known to occur at centromeres, telomeres and the mating type region in the nucleus of fission yeast, Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Mating-type silencing factors have previously been shown also to affect transcriptional repression within centromeres and to some extent at telomeres. Mutations in the clr4+, rik1+ and swi6+ genes dramatically reduce silencing at certain centromeric regions and cause elevated chromosome loss rates. Recently, Swi6p was found to co-localise with the three silent chromosomal regions. Here the involvement of clr4+, rik1+ and swi6+ in centromere function is investigated in further detail. Fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) was used to show that, as in swi6 mutant cells, centromeres lag on late anaphase spindles in clr4 and rik1 mutant cells. This phenotype is consistent with a role for these three gene products in fission yeast centromere function. The Swi6 protein was found to be delocalised from all three silent chromosomal regions, and dispersed within the nucleus, in both clr4 and rik1 mutant cells. The phenotypic similarity observed in all three mutants is consistent with the products of both the clr4+ and rik1+ genes being required to recruit Swi6p to the centromere and other silent regions. Mutations in clr4, rik1 and swi6 also result in elevated sensitivity to reagents which destabilise microtubules and show a synergistic interaction with a mutation in the beta-tubulin gene (nda3). These observations suggest that clr4+ and rik1+ must play a role in the assembly of Swi6p into a transcriptionally silent, inaccessible chromatin structure at fission yeast centromeres which is required to facilitate interactions with spindle microtubules and to ensure normal chromosome segregation.

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