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Peter Warburton

  • ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR Genetics and Genomic Sciences
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  • B.A., Franklin and Marshall College

  • Ph.D., University of Toronto

  • MRC Mammalian Genetics Institute

  • University of Edinburgh, Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology


    Mailing address/contact info
    Mount Sinai School of Medicine
    1425 Madison Ave, ICI 14-20E
    New York, NY 10029
    Warburton Lab Website


Genomic Analysis of Human Chromosome Structure and Function

My research interests are the investigation of two specific areas of human chromosome structure and function. The first is the epigenetics of human centromere formation and function, focusing on the DNA sequence requirements, chromatin domain structure and histone modifications found at human centromeres. The study of human centromeres is important to the basic biology of chromosome function and cell division, and has broad ranging applications in human health and disease, including aneuploidy and birth defects, cell cycle regulation and cancer, and gene therapy. The long term goal of this research is to understand the requirements for de novo centromere formation in human cells in order to create improved mitotically stable Mammalian Artifical Chromosme (MAC) constructs for use as autonomous gene delivery vectors.

The second area of research is an experimental and bioinformatic analysis of the repetitive DNA structure of the human genome, concentrating on inverted repeats, tandem repeat arrays, and transposable elements. These abundant DNA elements make up 50% of the human genome, and have had an enormous impact on our genome structure and evolution. The long term goal of this research is to identify and classify these DNA elements in the human genome and elucidate their role in chromosome structure and function.

Genomic analysis of human centromere structure and function:  My lab takes several approaches to investigate human centromeres, including 1) examination of clinically ascertained cases of unusual chromosomal aberrations involving variant centromeres, 2) basic research into the organization and interactions between centromeric DNA and kinetochore proteins and 3) improved methods for the construction and delivery of mammalian artificial chromosomes (MACs). We pride ourselves in developing and applying modern genomic, cytogenetic and molecular approaches to the study of human centromeres, including chromatin immunoprecipitation and genomic microarrays ("ChIP on a CHIP"), and combined immunofluorescence (IF) and fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) on metaphase chromosomes and interphase nuclei.
We are currently concentrating on the study of human neocentromeres, a rare class of new centromeres that form in chromosome arm fragments that would normally be acentric and rapidly lost, usually resulting in aneuploidy. Neocentromeres form on single copy DNA and therefore permit investigation of centromeric chromatin structure in relation to the underlying DNA sequence, which is not possible at endogenous centromeres due to the large amounts of highly homologous tandemly-repeated alpha satellite DNA found there. Working with clinical cytogenetics labs worldwide, we have characterized a large collection of patient-derived cell lines that contain neocentromeres. A disproportionate number of neocentromeres localized to chromosome band 13q32. Therefore, in order to directly identify neocentromere DNA, we constructed a genomic microarray (CHIP) that contained 126 overlapping BACs spanning 14Mbp across chromosome band 13q32, the largest contiguous human genomic microarray yet described. We screened this CHIP with neocentromere DNA obtained by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) using antibodies to CENP-A, the centromere-specific histone 3 homologue. This revealed at least three distinct genomic regions several hundred kb in size within 13q32 where neocentromeres have formed. These results suggested that neocentromere formation may be largely sequence independent and form by epigenetic mechanisms (Alonso et al, 2003).

We will continue to use our ChIP on a CHIP to further dissect the chromatin domain structure of neocentromeres, using antibodies to both kinetochore and heterochromatin proteins. We have constructed a next generation CHIP containing 138 unique sequence PCR fragments from within the neocentromere region, in order to map the organization of the CENP-A kinetochore chromatin to an unprecedented resolution.

E. coli based mammalian artificial chromosome (MAC) vectors. My lab is developing improved methods for the construction and delivery of MAC vectors to human cells. As a graduate student, I pioneered studies demonstrating that transfected alpha satellite DNA is capable of forming de novo centromeres, which has been confirmed extensively by other groups. The biggest hurdle to efficient MAC construction is the ability to manipulate and deliver large DNA constructs into cells in a controlled fashion. Therefore, we have developed a novel E. coli based vector system to manipulate and deliver large MAC vectors into human cells. An inducible homologous recombination system in BAC host E. coli DH10B permits convenient and rapid modification of human genomic BACs. Expression of the Yersinia pseudotuberculosis invasin gene in these E.coli DH10B BAC strains result in their ability to invade mammalian cells and deliver the modified BAC DNA (Narayanan and Warburton, 2003). Thus, a human BAC, containing genes of interest along with their surrounding regulatory DNA sequences, can be converted into a MAC by the addition of alpha satellite DNA and selectable markers, and delivered directly into mammalian cells. This system will be used to investigate the requirements for human centromere formation, and to facilitate development of MACs as gene expression vectors.

Bioinformatics Analysis of Human Repetitive DNA. Another area of research being developed in my lab is a genomic analysis of the organization and evolution of human repetitive DNA, which accounts for ~45% of our DNA and has had a huge impact on the structure and function of our genome. My past experience in studying repetitive DNA at human centromeres makes this an excellent niche in genome analysis that is well suited for my research program. Thus, in collaboration with Dr. Gary Benson, Boston University, we are developing novel bioinformatics software and genome analysis tools to examine the structure, organization and functions of three abundant and important classes of human repetitive DNA, inverted repeats, tandem repeat arrays, and transposable elements. We have developed and applied a unique computer algorithm, called Inverted Repeat Finder (IRF), that is capable of finding all inverted repeats (IR's) in the human genome sequence and indexing the results. After Repeat Masking of known interspersed repetitive elements, IRF identified ~22,000 low-copy IR's throughout the genome. Analysis of the 96 largest and most homologous IR's in the genome (≥8000bp, ≥95% homology) revealed a remarkable prevalence (24 IR's, 25%) on the human X chromosome, which only contains ~5% of the genome. Of these, 11 contain genes predominantly expressed in the testes. These results on the X chromosome are remarkably similar to the inverted repeat structure found on the human Y chromosome (by David Page's lab). These results suggest a possible role for these IR's in regulation or maintenance of testes genes on sex chromosomes during germ cell development or meiosis (Warburton et al, 2004). The genomic analysis of the complete set of human IR's, i.e. their structure, location, organization, position relative to genes/ replication origins, or their ability to extrude into cruciforms, represents a large and important bioinformatics and molecular biology project that will provide considerable insight into genome structure and function.

We thank the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD), and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for supporting this research.


Cardone MF, Alonso A, Pazienza M, Ventura M, Montemurro G, Cardone L, Rocchi M, Stanyon R, P, Archidiacono N, She X, Eichler EE, Warburton PE, de Jong PJ. Independent centromere formation in a capricious 7.2 Mbp domain of chromosome 13 in humans, Old World monkeys, and pigs. Genome Biol 2006;.

Warburton PE. Centromeric heterochromatin comes clean with DNA methylation. Nature Methods 2004; 1: 14-16.

Warburton PE, Giordano J, Benson G, Gelfand Y, Cheung F. Inverted Repeat structure of the human genome: The X chromosome contains a preponderance of large highly homologous inverted repeats which contain testes genes. Gen. Res 2004; 14: 1861-1869.

Warburton PE. Chromosomal dynamics of human neocentromere formation. Chromo Res 2004; 12: 617-626.

Alonso A, Mahmood R, Warburton PE, Cheung F, Yoda K, Li S. Genomic microarray analysis reveals distinct locations for the CENP-A binding domains in three human chromosome 13q32 neocentromeres. Hum. Mol. Genet 2003; 12(20): 2711-2721.

Narayanan K, Warburton PE. DNA modification and functional delivery into human cells using E. coli DH10B. Nucleic Acids Research 2003; 31: e51.

Knegt AC, Warburton PE, Biljsma EK, Li S. Prenatal diagnosis of a karyotypically normal pregnancy in a mother with a supernumerary neocentric ring 13q21/22 chromosome and balancing 13q21/22 deletion. Prenatal Diagnosiss 2003; 23: 215-220.

Grimes BR, Farr C, Warburton PE. Chromosome engineering: prospects for gene therapy. Gene Therapy 2002; 9: 713-718.

Assumpcao JG, Berkofsky-Fessler W, Campos NV, Warburton PE, Melaragno MI, deMello MP, Maciel-Guerra T. Identification of a neocentromere in a rearranged Y chromosome with no detectable DYZ3 centromeric sequence. Am. J. Med. Genet. 2002; 113: 263-267.

Li S, Malafiel P, Levy B, Mahmood R, Field M, Hughes T, Warburton PE, Wu Z, Huang M, Hirschhorn K, Velagaleti GN, Daniel A, Lockhart LH. Chromosome 13q neocentromeres: molecular cytogenetic characterization of three additional cases and clinical features. Am J. Med. Genet 2002; 110: 258-267.

Industry Relationships

Physicians and scientists on the faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai often interact with pharmaceutical, device and biotechnology companies to improve patient care, develop new therapies and achieve scientific breakthroughs. In order to promote an ethical and transparent environment for conducting research, providing clinical care and teaching, Mount Sinai requires that salaried faculty inform the School of their relationships with such companies.

Dr. Warburton did not report having any of the following types of financial relationships with industry during 2015 and/or 2016: consulting, scientific advisory board, industry-sponsored lectures, service on Board of Directors, participation on industry-sponsored committees, equity ownership valued at greater than 5% of a publicly traded company or any value in a privately held company. Please note that this information may differ from information posted on corporate sites due to timing or classification differences.

Mount Sinai's faculty policies relating to faculty collaboration with industry are posted on our website. Patients may wish to ask their physician about the activities they perform for companies.

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