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Dev Biol. 2006 Apr 1;292(1):1-12. Epub 2006 Feb 8.

Chromatin modifications in the germinal vesicle (GV) of mammalian oocytes.

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Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, PA 19348, USA.


The nucleus of eukaryotic cells is organized into functionally specialized compartments that are essential for the control of gene expression, chromosome architecture and cellular differentiation. The mouse oocyte nucleus or germinal vesicle (GV) exhibits a unique chromatin configuration that is subject to dynamic modifications during oogenesis. This process of 'epigenetic maturation' is critical to confer the female gamete with meiotic as well as developmental competence. In spite of its biological significance, little is known concerning the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating large-scale chromatin structure in mammalian oocytes. Here, recent findings that provide mechanistic insight into the complex relationship between large-scale chromatin structure and global transcriptional repression in pre-ovulatory oocytes will be discussed. Post-translational modifications of histone proteins such as acetylation and methylation are crucial for heterochromatin formation and thus play a key role in remodeling the oocyte genome. This strategy involves multiple and hierarchical chromatin modifications that regulate nuclear dynamics in response to a developmentally programmed signal(s), presumably of paracrine origin, before the resumption of meiosis. Models for the experimental manipulation of large-scale chromatin structure in vivo and in vitro will be instrumental to determine the key cellular pathways and oocyte-derived factors involved in genome-wide chromatin modifications. Importantly, analysis of the functional differentiation of chromatin structure in the oocyte genome with high resolution and in real time will have wide-ranging implications to understand the role of nuclear organization in meiosis, the events of nuclear reprogramming and the spatio-temporal regulation of gene expression during development and differentiation.

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