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Concept: Meiosis


Sperm are highly differentiated and the activities that reprogram them for embryonic development during fertilization have historically been considered unique to the oocyte. We here challenge this view and demonstrate that mouse embryos in the mitotic cell cycle can also directly reprogram sperm for full-term development. Developmentally incompetent haploid embryos (parthenogenotes) injected with sperm developed to produce healthy offspring at up to 24% of control rates, depending when in the embryonic cell cycle injection took place. This implies that most of the first embryonic cell cycle can be bypassed in sperm genome reprogramming for full development. Remodelling of histones and genomic 5'-methylcytosine and 5'-hydroxymethylcytosine following embryo injection were distinct from remodelling in fertilization and the resulting 2-cell embryos consistently possessed abnormal transcriptomes. These studies demonstrate plasticity in the reprogramming of terminally differentiated sperm nuclei and suggest that different epigenetic pathways or kinetics can establish totipotency.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Embryo, Developmental biology, Embryology, Meiosis, Zygote


Development of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) in the dog has resisted progress for decades, due to their unique reproductive physiology. This lack of progress is remarkable given the critical role ART could play in conserving endangered canid species or eradicating heritable disease through gene-editing technologies-an approach that would also advance the dog as a biomedical model. Over 350 heritable disorders/traits in dogs are homologous with human conditions, almost twice the number of any other species. Here we report the first live births from in vitro fertilized embryos in the dog. Adding to the practical significance, these embryos had also been cryopreserved. Changes in handling of both gametes enabled this progress. The medium previously used to capacitate sperm excluded magnesium because it delayed spontaneous acrosome exocytosis. We found that magnesium significantly enhanced sperm hyperactivation and ability to undergo physiologically-induced acrosome exocytosis, two functions essential to fertilize an egg. Unlike other mammals, dogs ovulate a primary oocyte, which reaches metaphase II on Days 4-5 after the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge. We found that only on Day 6 are oocytes consistently able to be fertilized. In vitro fertilization of Day 6 oocytes with sperm capacitated in medium supplemented with magnesium resulted in high rates of embryo development (78.8%, n = 146). Intra-oviductal transfer of nineteen cryopreserved, in vitro fertilization (IVF)-derived embryos resulted in seven live, healthy puppies. Development of IVF enables modern genetic approaches to be applied more efficiently in dogs, and for gamete rescue to conserve endangered canid species.

Concepts: Reproduction, Spermatozoon, In vitro fertilisation, Meiosis, Ovulation, Zygote, Dog, Canidae


Previous studies have revealed that mouse primordial germ cells (PGCs) undergo genome-wide DNA methylation reprogramming to reset the epigenome for totipotency. However, the precise 5-methylcytosine (5mC) dynamics and its relationship with the generation of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) are not clear. Here we analyzed the dynamics of 5mC and 5hmC during PGC reprograming and germ cell development. Unexpectedly, we found a specific period (E8.5-9.5) during which both 5mC and 5hmC levels are low. Subsequently, 5hmC levels increase reaching its peak at E11.5 and gradually decrease until E13.5 likely by replication-dependent dilution. Interestingly, 5hmC is enriched in chromocenters during this period. While this germ cell-specific 5hmC subnuclear localization pattern is maintained in female germ cells even in mature oocytes, such pattern is gradually lost in male germ cells as mitotic proliferation resumes during the neonatal stage. Pericentric 5hmC plays an important role in silencing major satellite repeat, especially in female PGCs. Global transcriptome analysis by RNA-seq revealed that the great majority of differentially expressed genes from E9.5 to 13.5 are upregulated in both male and female PGCs. Although only female PGCs enter meiosis during the prenatal stage, meiosis-related and a subset of imprinted genes are significantly upregulated in both male and female PGCs at E13.5. Thus, our study not only reveals the dynamics of 5mC and 5hmC during PGC reprogramming and germ cell development, but also their potential role in epigenetic reprogramming and transcriptional regulation of meiotic and imprinted genes.Cell Research advance online publication 12 February 2013; doi:10.1038/cr.2013.22.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Epigenetics, Cellular differentiation, DNA methylation, Meiosis, Germ cell


Egg activation refers to events required for transition of a gamete into an embryo, including establishment of the polyspermy block, completion of meiosis, entry into mitosis, selective recruitment and degradation of maternal mRNA, and pronuclear development. Here we show that zinc fluxes accompany human egg activation. We monitored calcium and zinc dynamics in individual human eggs using selective fluorophores following activation with calcium-ionomycin, ionomycin, or hPLCζ cRNA microinjection. These egg activation methods, as expected, induced rises in intracellular calcium levels and also triggered the coordinated release of zinc into the extracellular space in a prominent “zinc spark.” The ability of the gamete to mount a zinc spark response was meiotic-stage dependent. Moreover, chelation of intracellular zinc alone was sufficient to induce cell cycle resumption and transition of a meiotic cell into a mitotic one. Together, these results demonstrate critical functions for zinc dynamics and establish the zinc spark as an extracellular marker of early human development.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Chromosome, Cell cycle, Mitosis, Meiosis, Gamete, Interphase, Chromatid


A pharmacologic approach to male contraception remains a longstanding challenge in medicine. Toward this objective, we explored the spermatogenic effects of a selective small-molecule inhibitor (JQ1) of the bromodomain and extraterminal (BET) subfamily of epigenetic reader proteins. Here, we report potent inhibition of the testis-specific member BRDT, which is essential for chromatin remodeling during spermatogenesis. Biochemical and crystallographic studies confirm that occupancy of the BRDT acetyl-lysine binding pocket by JQ1 prevents recognition of acetylated histone H4. Treatment of mice with JQ1 reduced seminiferous tubule area, testis size, and spermatozoa number and motility without affecting hormone levels. Although JQ1-treated males mate normally, inhibitory effects of JQ1 evident at the spermatocyte and round spermatid stages cause a complete and reversible contraceptive effect. These data establish a new contraceptive that can cross the blood:testis boundary and inhibit bromodomain activity during spermatogenesis, providing a lead compound targeting the male germ cell for contraception. PAPERCLIP:

Concepts: Histone, Sperm, Enzyme inhibitor, Spermatozoon, Nucleosome, Meiosis, Sertoli cell, Puberty


Mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) are maternally inherited and can cause fatal or debilitating mitochondrial disorders. The severity of clinical symptoms is often associated with the level of mtDNA mutation load or degree of heteroplasmy. Current clinical options to prevent transmission of mtDNA mutations to offspring are limited. Experimental spindle transfer in metaphase II oocytes, also called mitochondrial replacement therapy, is a novel technology for preventing mtDNA transmission from oocytes to pre-implantation embryos. Here, we report a female carrier of Leigh syndrome (mtDNA mutation 8993T > G), with a long history of multiple undiagnosed pregnancy losses and deaths of offspring as a result of this disease, who underwent IVF after reconstitution of her oocytes by spindle transfer into the cytoplasm of enucleated donor oocytes. A male euploid blastocyst wasobtained from the reconstituted oocytes, which had only a 5.7% mtDNA mutation load. Transfer of the embryo resulted in a pregnancy with delivery of a boy with neonatal mtDNA mutation load of 2.36-9.23% in his tested tissues. The boy is currently healthy at 7 months of age, although long-term follow-up of the child’s longitudinal development remains crucial.

Concepts: DNA, Pregnancy, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Meiosis, Zygote, Human mitochondrial genetics, Mitochondrial disease


The origin of the germline-soma distinction is a fundamental unsolved question. Plants and basal metazoans do not have a germline but generate gametes from pluripotent stem cells in somatic tissues (somatic gametogenesis). In contrast, most bilaterians sequester a dedicated germline early in development. We develop an evolutionary model which shows that selection for mitochondrial quality drives germline evolution. In organisms with low mitochondrial replication error rates, segregation of mutations over multiple cell divisions generates variation, allowing selection to optimize gamete quality through somatic gametogenesis. Higher mutation rates promote early germline sequestration. We also consider how oogamy (a large female gamete packed with mitochondria) alters selection on the germline. Oogamy is beneficial as it reduces mitochondrial segregation in early development, improving adult fitness by restricting variation between tissues. But it also limits variation between early-sequestered oocytes, undermining gamete quality. Oocyte variation is restored through proliferation of germline cells, producing more germ cells than strictly needed, explaining the random culling (atresia) of precursor cells in bilaterians. Unlike other models of germline evolution, selection for mitochondrial quality can explain the stability of somatic gametogenesis in plants and basal metazoans, the evolution of oogamy in all plants and animals with tissue differentiation, and the mutational forces driving early germline sequestration in active bilaterians. The origins of predation in motile bilaterians in the Cambrian explosion is likely to have increased rates of tissue turnover and mitochondrial replication errors, in turn driving germline evolution and the emergence of complex developmental processes.

Concepts: DNA, Mutation, Evolution, Developmental biology, Animal, Cellular differentiation, Meiosis, Gamete


Mouse oocytes respond to DNA damage by arresting in meiosis I through activity of the Spindle Assembly Checkpoint (SAC) and DNA Damage Response (DDR) pathways. It is currently not known if DNA damage is the primary trigger for arrest, or if the pathway is sensitive to levels of DNA damage experienced physiologically. Here, using follicular fluid from patients with the disease endometriosis, which affects 10% of women and is associated with reduced fertility, we find raised levels of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), which generate DNA damage and turn on the DDR-SAC pathway. Only follicular fluid from patients with endometriosis, and not controls, produced ROS and damaged DNA in the oocyte. This activated ATM kinase, leading to SAC mediated metaphase I arrest. Completion of meiosis I could be restored by ROS scavengers, showing this is the primary trigger for arrest and offering a novel clinical therapeutic treatment. This study establishes a clinical relevance to the DDR induced SAC in oocytes. It helps explain how oocytes respond to a highly prevalent human disease and the reduced fertility associated with endometriosis.

Concepts: Chromosome, DNA repair, Cell cycle, Meiosis, Polar body, Folliculogenesis, Kinetochore, Oocyte


In vitro generation of functional gametes is a promising approach for treating infertility, although faithful replication of meiosis has proven to be a substantial obstacle to deriving haploid gamete cells in culture. Here we report complete in vitro meiosis from embryonic stem cell (ESC)-derived primordial germ cells (PGCLCs). Co-culture of PGCLCs with neonatal testicular somatic cells and sequential exposure to morphogens and sex hormones reproduced key hallmarks of meiosis, including erasure of genetic imprinting, chromosomal synapsis and recombination, and correct nuclear DNA and chromosomal content in the resulting haploid cells. Intracytoplasmic injection of the resulting spermatid-like cells into oocytes produced viable and fertile offspring, showing that this robust stepwise approach can functionally recapitulate male gametogenesis in vitro. These findings provide a platform for investigating meiotic mechanisms and the potential generation of human haploid spermatids in vitro.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Chromosome, Meiosis, Chromosomal crossover, Gamete, Germ cells, Germ cell


In this work we use TALE nucleases (TALENs) to target a reporter construct to the DDX4 (vasa) locus in chicken primordial germ cells. Vasa is a key germ cell determinant in many animal species and is posited to control avian germ cell formation. We show that TALENs mediate homology directed repair of the DDX4 locus on the Z sex chromosome at high (8.1%) efficiencies. Large genetic deletions of 30kb encompassing the entire DDX4 locus were also created using a single TALEN pair. The targeted PGCs were germ line competent and were used to produce DDX4 null offspring. In DDX4 knockout chickens, PGCs are initially formed but are lost during meiosis in the developing ovary leading to adult female sterility. TALEN-mediated gene targeting in avian primordial germ cells is therefore an efficient process.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Archaea, Eukaryote, Chromosome, Meiosis, Germ cell