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Genetics. 2009 Nov;183(3):905-15. doi: 10.1534/genetics.109.108688. Epub 2009 Sep 14.

Interlock formation and coiling of meiotic chromosome axes during synapsis.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


The meiotic prophase chromosome has a unique architecture. At the onset of leptotene, the replicated sister chromatids are organized along an axial element. During zygotene, as homologous chromosomes pair and synapse, a synaptonemal complex forms via the assembly of a transverse element between the two axial elements. However, due to the limitations of light and electron microscopy, little is known about chromatin organization with respect to the chromosome axes and about the spatial progression of synapsis in three dimensions. Three-dimensional structured illumination microscopy (3D-SIM) is a new method of superresolution optical microscopy that overcomes the 200-nm diffraction limit of conventional light microscopy and reaches a lateral resolution of at least 100 nm. Using 3D-SIM and antibodies against a cohesin protein (AFD1/REC8), we resolved clearly the two axes that form the lateral elements of the synaptonemal complex. The axes are coiled around each other as a left-handed helix, and AFD1 showed a bilaterally symmetrical pattern on the paired axes. Using the immunostaining of the axial element component (ASY1/HOP1) to find unsynapsed regions, entangled chromosomes can be easily detected. At the late zygotene/early pachytene transition, about one-third of the nuclei retained unsynapsed regions and 78% of these unsynapsed axes were associated with interlocks. By late pachytene, no interlocks remain, suggesting that interlock resolution may be an important and rate-limiting step to complete synapsis. Since interlocks are potentially deleterious if left unresolved, possible mechanisms for their resolution are discussed in this article.

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