In mammals, Robertsonian (Rb) translocation (the joining of two telo/acrocentric chromosomes at their centromere to form a metacentric) is the most effective process in chromosomal evolution leading to speciation; its occurrence also affects human health (through the induction of trisomies) and the fertility of farm animals. To understand the mechanism of Rb translocation, we used the house mouse as a model system and studied the organization of pericentromeric satellite DNAs (satDNA) of telocentrics and Rb chromosomes, both minor and major satDNA. The chromosome-orientation fluorescence in situ hybridization (CO-FISH) technique was used to analyze the major satDNA. To detect the very small amount of minor satDNA, a procedure was developed that combines CO-FISH with primed in situ labeling and conventional FISH and is five times more sensitive than the CO-FISH procedure alone. It was found that both the major and the minor satDNA tandem repeats are oriented head-to-tail in telocentric and Rb chromosomes, and their polarity is always the same relative to the centromere. We suggest that all tandemly repetitive satDNAs in a species probably are locked into such a symmetry constraint as a universal consequence of chromosomal evolution. Rb translocation breakpoints were found localized within the minor satDNA of telocentrics, and these sequences contributed symmetrically to the formation of the centromeric region of the Rb chromosomes. These results are important for an understanding of the geometry of Rb translocations and suggest the study of DNA orientation as a new tool for investigating these rearrangements
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