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Cell Death Dis. 2013 Aug 1;4:e749. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2013.269.

Role for rodent Smc6 in pericentromeric heterochromatin domains during spermatogonial differentiation and meiosis.

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Center for Reproductive Medicine, Women's and Children's Hospital, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Chromatin structure and function are for a large part determined by the six members of the structural maintenance of chromosomes (SMC) protein family, which form three heterodimeric complexes: Smc1/3 (cohesin), Smc2/4 (condensin) and Smc5/6. Each complex has distinct and important roles in chromatin dynamics, gene expression and differentiation. In yeast and Drosophila, Smc6 is involved in recombinational repair, restarting collapsed replication forks and prevention of recombination in repetitive sequences such as rDNA and pericentromeric heterochromatin. Although such DNA damage control mechanisms, as well as highly dynamic changes in chromatin composition and function, are essential for gametogenesis, knowledge on Smc6 function in mammalian systems is limited. We therefore have investigated the role of Smc6 during mammalian spermatogonial differentiation, meiosis and subsequent spermiogenesis. We found that, during mouse spermatogenesis, Smc6 functions as part of meiotic pericentromeric heterochromatin domains that are initiated when differentiating spermatogonia become irreversibly committed toward meiosis. To our knowledge, we are the first to provide insight into how commitment toward meiosis alters chromatin structure and dynamics, thereby setting apart differentiating spermatogonia from the undifferentiated spermatogonia, including the spermatogonial stem cells. Interestingly, Smc6 is not essential for spermatogonial mitosis, whereas Smc6-negative meiotic cells appear unable to finish their first meiotic division. Importantly, during meiosis, we find that DNA repair or recombination sites, marked by γH2AX or Rad51 respectively, do not co-localize with the pericentromeric heterochromatin domains where Smc6 is located. Considering the repetitive nature of these domains and that Smc6 has been previously shown to prevent recombination in repetitive sequences, we hypothesize that Smc6 has a role in the prevention of aberrant recombination events between pericentromeric regions during the first meiotic prophase that would otherwise cause chromosomal aberrations leading to apoptosis, meiotic arrest or aneuploidies.

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