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Biochem Cell Biol. 1992 Oct-Nov;70(10-11):856-66.

Nuclear and chromatin composition of mammalian gametes and early embryos.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, McGill University, Montreal, Que., Canada.


Changes in nuclear structure and chromatin composition regulate gene activity in many cell types and could play a similar role during early mammalian embryogenesis. Oocytes of the mouse contain the three major lamin species present in somatic cells, although lamin A synthesized by oocytes has a higher molecular mass than the somatic species. Oocyte chromatin contains core histones similar to those of somatic cells, as well as elements that are immunologically related to protamines. In contrast, somatic-type histone H1 is not present. DNA topoisomerase II has not yet been identified in mammalian oocytes, but is abundant in frog oocytes. In contrast to oocytes, sperm do not contain a typical nuclear lamina. DNA topoisomerase II is detectable until late spermiogenesis. Although the DNA of sperm is associated mainly with protamines, some histone may be retained. There is also evidence that the arrangement of the DNA in the nucleus is nonrandom. These results demonstrate differences in nuclear and chromatin composition between oocytes and sperm. After fertilization, the nuclei of cleavage-stage blastomeres undergo programmed modifications. Lamin B is synthesized, whereas lamin A is not. In addition, a set of nuclear proteins is transiently synthesized in mice at the two-cell stage. Changes in embryonic chromatin composition also occur. The relative abundance of transcripts from different core histone genes differs between mouse oocytes and blastocysts. Furthermore, somatic histone H1 becomes detectable beginning at the mid-four-cell stage. As well, during early cleavage stages, expression of plasmid-borne genes becomes dependent on enhancers. Thus, developmentally regulated changes in nuclear and chromatin composition occur during early mammalian embryogenesis, and these may be important for the initiation and regulation of embryonic gene activity.

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