Intercalary heterochromatin consists of extended chromosomal domains which are interspersed throughout the euchromatin and contain silent genetic material. These domains comprise either clusters of functionally unrelated genes or tandem gene duplications and possibly stretches of noncoding sequences. Strong repression of genetic activity means that intercalary heterochromatin displays properties that are normally attributable to classic pericentric heterochromatin: high compaction, late replication and underreplication in polytene chromosomes, and the presence of heterochromatin-specific proteins. Late replication and underreplication occurs when the suppressor of underreplication protein is present in intercalary heterochromatic regions. Intercalary heterochromatin underreplication in polytene chromosomes results in free double-stranded ends of DNA molecules; ligation of these free ends is the most likely mechanism for ectopic pairing between intercalary heterochromatic and pericentric heterochromatic regions. No support has been found for the view that the frequency of chromosome aberrations is elevated in intercalary heterochromatin.
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