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Dev Biol. 2002 Sep 1;249(1):85-95.

Meiotic prophase abnormalities and metaphase cell death in MLH1-deficient mouse spermatocytes: insights into regulation of spermatogenic progress.

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Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennesse 37996, USA.


The MLH1 protein is required for normal meiosis in mice and its absence leads to failure in maintenance of pairing between bivalent chromosomes, abnormal meiotic division, and ensuing sterility in both sexes. In this study, we investigated whether failure to develop foci of MLH1 protein on chromosomes in prophase would lead to elimination of prophase spermatocytes, and, if not, whether univalent chromosomes could align normally on the meiotic spindle and whether metaphase spermatocytes would be delayed and/or eliminated. In spite of the absence of MLH1 foci, no apoptosis of spermatocytes in prophase was detected. In fact, chromosomes of pachytene spermatocytes from Mlh1(-/-) mice were competent to condense metaphase chromosomes, both in vivo and in vitro. Most condensed chromosomes were univalents with spatially distinct FISH signals. Typical metaphase events, such as synaptonemal complex breakdown and the phosphorylation of Ser10 on histone H3, occurred in Mlh1(-/-) spermatocytes, suggesting that there is no inhibition of onset of meiotic metaphase in the face of massive chromosomal abnormalities. However, the condensed univalent chromosomes did not align correctly onto the spindle apparatus in the majority of Mlh1(-/-) spermatocytes. Most meiotic metaphase spermatocytes were characterized with bipolar spindles, but chromosomes radiated away from the microtubule-organizing centers in a prometaphase-like pattern rather than achieving a bipolar orientation. Apoptosis was not observed until after the onset of meiotic metaphase. Thus, spermatocytes are not eliminated in direct response to the initial meiotic defect, but are eliminated later. Taken together, these observations suggest that a spindle assembly checkpoint, rather than a recombination or chiasmata checkpoint, may be activated in response to meiotic errors, thereby ensuring elimination of chromosomally abnormal gamete precursors.

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