Haplotypes spanning centromeric regions reveal persistence of large blocks of archaic DNA
Despite critical roles in chromosome segregation and disease, the repetitive structure and vast size of centromeres and their surrounding heterochromatic regions impede studies of genomic variation. Here we report the identification of large-scale haplotypes (cenhaps) in humans that span the centromere-proximal regions of all metacentric chromosomes, including the arrays of highly repeated α-satellites on which centromeres form. Cenhaps reveal deep diversity, including entire introgressed Neanderthal centromeres and equally ancient lineages among Africans. These centromere-spanning haplotypes contain variants, including large differences in α-satellite DNA content, which may influence the fidelity and bias of chromosome transmission. The discovery of cenhaps creates new opportunities to investigate their contribution to phenotypic variation, especially in meiosis and mitosis, as well as to more incisively model the unexpectedly rich evolution of these challenging genomic regions.