Chromosome integrity is required for the initiation of meiotic sex chromosome inactivation in Caenorhabditis elegans

During meiosis of heterogametic cells, such as XY meiocytes, sex chromosomes of many species undergo transcriptional silencing known as meiotic sex chromosome inactivation (MSCI). Silencing also occurs in aberrantly unsynapsed autosomal chromatin. The silencing of unsynapsed chromatin, is assumed to be the underline mechanism for MSCI. Initiation of MSCI is disrupted in meiocytes with sex chromosome-autosome translocations. Whether this is due to aberrant synapsis or the lack of sex chromosome integrity has never been determined.

To address this, we used CRISPR to engineer Caenorhabditis elegans stable strains with broken X chromosomes that didn’t undergo translocations with autosomes. In early meiotic nuclei of these mutants, the X fragments lack silent chromatin modifications and instead the fragments are enriched with transcribing chromatin modifications. Moreover, the level of active RNA polymerase II staining on the X fragments in mutant nuclei is similar to that on autosomes, indicating active transcription on the X.

Contrary to previous models, which predicted that any unsynapsed chromatin is silenced during meiosis, X fragments that did not synapse were robustly stained with RNA polymerase II and gene expression levels were high throughout the broken X. Therefore, lack of synapsis does not trigger MSCI if sex chromosome integrity is lost. Moreover, our results suggest that a unique character of the chromatin of sex chromosomes underlies their lack of meiotic silencing due to both unsynapsed chromatin and sex chromosome mechanisms when their integrity is lost.

Authors: Yisrael Rappaport, Hanna Achache, Roni Falk, Omer Murik, Oren Ram, Yonatan B. Tzur