The ability to reproduce relies in most eukaryotes on specialized cells called gametes. Gametes are formed by the process of meiosis in which, after a single round of replication, two successive cell divisions reduce the ploidy of the genome. Fusion of gametes at fertilization reconstitutes diploidy. In most animal species, chromosome segregation during female meiosis occurs on spindles assembled in the absence of the major microtubule-organizing center, the centrosome. In mammals, oocyte meiosis is error-prone and underlies the majority of birth aneuploidies. Here, we review recent work on acentrosomal spindle formation and chromosome alignment/separation during oocyte meiosis in different animal models.
Centromeres are chromosomal loci that direct segregation of the genome during cell division. The histone H3 variant CENP-A (also known as CenH3) defines centromeres in monocentric organisms, which confine centromere activity to a discrete chromosomal region, and holocentric organisms, which distribute centromere activity along the chromosome length1–3. Because the highly repetitive DNA found at most centromeres is neither necessary nor sufficient for centromere function, stable inheritance of CENP-A nucleosomal chromatin is postulated to epigenetically propagate centromere identity4. Here, we show that in the holocentric nematode Caenorhabditis elegans pre-existing CENP-A nucleosomes are not necessary to guide recruitment of new CENP-A nucleosomes. This is indicated by lack of CENP-A transmission by sperm during fertilization and by removal and subsequent reloading of CENP-A during oogenic meiotic prophase. Genome-wide mapping of CENP-A location in embryos and quantification of CENP-A molecules in nuclei revealed that CENP-A is incorporated at low density in domains that cumulatively encompass half the genome. Embryonic CENP-A domains are established in a pattern inverse to regions that are transcribed in the germline and early embryo, and ectopic transcription of genes in a mutant germline altered the pattern of CENP-A incorporation in embryos. Furthermore, regions transcribed in the germline but not embryos fail to incorporate CENP-A throughout embryogenesis. We propose that germline transcription defines genomic regions that exclude CENP-A incorporation in progeny, and that zygotic transcription during early embryogenesis remodels and reinforces this basal pattern. These findings link centromere identity to transcription and shed light on the evolutionary plasticity of centromeres.
Centromeres are epigenetically defined chromatin domains marked by the presence of the histone H3 variant CENP-A. Here we review recent structural and biochemical work on CENP-A, and advances in understanding the mechanisms that propagate and read centromeric chromatin domains.
Assembly of the trilaminar eggshell and development of the permeability barrier
after fertilization in C. elegans are distinct in their timing
In metazoans, fertilization triggers the assembly of an extracellular coat that
constitutes the interface between the embryo and its environment. In nematodes,
this coat is the eggshell, which provides mechanical rigidity, prevents
polyspermy, and is impermeable to small molecules. Using immunoelectron
microscopy, we found that the Caenorhabditis elegans eggshell
was composed of an outer vitelline layer, a middle chitin layer, and an inner
layer containing chondroitin proteoglycans. The switch between the chitin and
proteoglycan layers was achieved by internalization of chitin synthase
coincident with exocytosis of proteoglycan-containing cortical granules. Inner
layer assembly did not make the zygote impermeable as previously proposed.
Instead, correlative light and electron microscopy demonstrated that the
permeability barrier was a distinct envelope that formed in a separate step that
required fatty acid synthesis, the sugar-modifying enzyme PERM-1, and the acyl
chain transfer enzyme DGTR-1. These findings delineate the hierarchy of eggshell
assembly and define key molecular mechanisms at each step.
DNA Mismatch Repair (MMR) increases replication fidelity by eliminating mispaired bases resulting from replication errors. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae mispairs are primarily detected by the Msh2-Msh6 complex and corrected following subsequent recruitment of the Mlh1-Pms1 complex. Here, we visualized functional fluorescent versions of Msh2-Msh6 and Mlh1-Pms1 in living cells. Msh2-Msh6 formed foci in S-phase that colocalized with replication factories; this localized pool accounted for 10–15% of MMR in wild-type cells but was essential for MMR in the absence of the exonuclease Exo1. Mlh1-Pms1 also formed foci that, while requiring Msh2-Msh6 for their formation, rarely colocalized with Msh2-Msh6. Mlh1-Pms1 foci increased when the number of mispaired bases was increased; in contrast, Msh2-Msh6 foci were unaffected. These results suggest that (I) mispair recognition can occur via either a replication factory-targeted or a second distinct pool of Msh2-Msh6, and (II) superstoichiometric Mlh1-Pms1 assembly triggered by mispair-bound Msh2-Msh6 defines sites of active MMR.
DNA injected into the C. elegans germline forms extrachromosomal arrays that segregate during cell division [1, 2]. The mechanisms underlying array formation and segregation are not known. Here, we show that extrachromosomal arrays form de novo centromeres at high frequency, providing unique access to a process that occurs with extremely low frequency in other systems [3–8]. De novo centromerized arrays recruit centromeric chromatin and kinetochore proteins and autonomously segregate on the spindle. Live imaging following DNA injection revealed that arrays form after oocyte fertilization via homologous recombination and non-homologous end joining. Individual arrays gradually transition from passive inheritance to active segregation during the early embryonic divisions. The Heterochromatin Protein 1 (HP1) family proteins HPL-1 and HPL-2 are dispensable for de novo centromerization even though arrays become strongly enriched for the heterochromatin-associated H3K9me3 modification over time. Partial inhibition of HP1 family proteins accelerates the acquisition of segregation competence. In addition to reporting the first direct visualization of new centromere formation in living cells, these findings reveal that naked DNA rapidly builds de novo centromeres in C. elegans embryos in an HP1-independent manner, and suggest that, rather than being a prerequisite, HP1-dependent heterochromatin antagonizes de novo centromerization.
mitosis; centromere; kinetochore; heterochromatin; microtubule; tubulin; cell division; spindle; CenH3; CENP-A; histone variant; HP1
A microtubule-binding site in the extreme N terminus of KNL-1 is dispensable for load-bearing attachments but participates in checkpoint silencing at the kinetochore.
Accurate chromosome segregation requires coordination between microtubule attachment and spindle checkpoint signaling at the kinetochore. The kinetochore-localized KMN (KNL-1/Mis12 complex/Ndc80 complex) network, which mediates microtubule attachment and scaffolds checkpoint signaling, harbors two distinct microtubule-binding activities: the load-bearing activity of the Ndc80 complex and a less well-understood activity in KNL-1. In this paper, we show that KNL-1 microtubule-binding and -bundling activity resides in its extreme N terminus. Selective perturbation of KNL-1 microtubule binding in Caenorhabditis elegans embryos revealed that this activity is dispensable for both load-bearing attachment formation and checkpoint activation but plays a role in checkpoint silencing at the kinetochore. Perturbation of both microtubule binding and protein phosphatase 1 docking at the KNL-1 N terminus additively affected checkpoint silencing, indicating that, despite their proximity in KNL-1, these two activities make independent contributions. We propose that microtubule binding by KNL-1 functions in checkpoint silencing by sensing microtubules attached to kinetochores and relaying their presence to eliminate generation of the checkpoint signal.
High-content screening for gene profiling has generally been limited to single cells. Here, we explore an alternative approach—profiling gene function by analyzing effects of gene knockdowns on the architecture of a complex tissue in a multicellular organism. We profile 554 essential C. elegans genes by imaging gonad architecture and scoring 94 phenotypic features. To generate a reference for evaluating methods for network construction, genes were manually partitioned into 102 phenotypic classes, predicting functions for uncharacterized genes across diverse cellular processes. Using this classification as a benchmark, we developed a robust computational method for constructing gene networks from high-content profiles based on a network context-dependent measure that ranks the significance of links between genes. Our analysis reveals that multi-parametric profiling in a complex tissue yields functional maps with a resolution similar to genetic interaction-based profiling in unicellular eukaryotes—pinpointing subunits of macromolecular complexes and components functioning in common cellular processes.
C. elegans is a powerful metazoan model system to address fundamental questions in cell and developmental biology. Research in C. elegans has traditionally focused on genetic, physiological, and cell biological approaches. However, C. elegans is also a facile system for biochemistry: worms are easy to grow in large quantities, the functionality of tagged fusion proteins can be assessed using mutants or RNAi, and the relevance of putative interaction partners can be rapidly tested in vivo. Combining biochemistry with function-based genetic and RNA interference screens can rapidly accelerate the delineation of protein networks and pathways in diverse contexts. In this chapter, we focus on two strategies to identify protein–protein interactions: single-step immunoprecipitation and tandem affinity purification. We describe methods for growth of worms in large-scale liquid culture, preparation of worm and embryo extracts, immunoprecipitation, and tandem affinity purification. In addition, we describe methods to test specificity of antibodies, strategies for optimizing starting material, and approaches to distinguish specific from non-specific interactions.
In contrast to their sequential roles in midzone assembly, the CPC and centralspindlin act through independent mechanisms to regulate contractile ring assembly.
The chromosomal passenger complex (CPC) and centralspindlin are conserved cytokinesis regulators that localize to the spindle midzone, which forms between the separating chromosomes. Previous work placed the CPC and centralspindlin in a linear pathway that governs midzone formation. Using Caenorhabditis elegans embryos, we test whether there is a similar linear relationship between centralspindlin and the CPC in contractile ring constriction during cytokinesis. We show that simultaneous inhibition of the CPC kinase Aurora BAIR-2 and the centralspindlin component MKLP1ZEN-4 causes an additive constriction defect. Consistent with distinct roles for the proteins, inhibition of filamentous septin guanosine triphosphatases alleviates constriction defects in Aurora BAIR-2–inhibited embryos, whereas inhibition of Rac does so in MKLP1ZEN-4-inhibited embryos. Centralspindlin and the CPC are not required to enrich ring proteins at the cell equator but instead regulate formation of a compact mature ring. Therefore, in contrast to the linear midzone assembly pathway, centralspindlin and the CPC make independent contributions to control transformation of the sheet-like equatorial band into a ribbon-like contractile ring at the furrow tip.
Genetic and genome-wide RNAi approaches available in C. elegans, combined with tools for visualizing subcellular events with high-resolution, have led to increasing adoption of the early C. elegans embryo as a model for mechanistic and functional genomic analysis of cellular processes. However, a limitation of this system has been the impermeability of the embryo eggshell, which has prevented the routine use of small molecule inhibitors. Here, we present a method to permeabilize and immobilize embryos for acute inhibitor treatment in conjunction with live imaging. To identify a means to permeabilize the eggshell, we used a dye uptake assay to screen a set of 310 candidate genes defined by a combination of bioinformatic criteria. This screen identified 20 genes whose inhibition resulted in >75% eggshell permeability, and 3 that permeabilized embryos with minimal deleterious effects on embryo production and early embryonic development. To mount permeabilized embryos for acute drug addition in conjunction with live imaging, we combined optimized inhibition of one of these genes with the use of a microfabricated chamber that we designed. We demonstrate that these two developments enable the temporally controlled introduction of inhibitors for mechanistic studies. This method should also open new avenues of investigation by allowing profiling and specificity-testing of inhibitors through comparison with genome-wide phenotypic datasets.
Chromosome segregation requires coordinated separation of sister chromatids following biorientation of all chromosomes on the mitotic spindle. Chromatid separation at the metaphase-to-anaphase transition is accomplished by cleavage of the cohesin complex that holds chromatids together. Here we show using live-cell imaging that extending the metaphase bioriented state using five independent perturbations (expression of non-degradable Cyclin B, expression of a Spindly point mutant that prevents spindle checkpoint silencing, depletion of the anaphase inducer Cdc20, treatment with a proteasome inhibitor, or treatment with an inhibitor of the mitotic kinesin CENP-E) leads to eventual scattering of chromosomes on the spindle. This scattering phenotype is characterized by uncoordinated loss of cohesion between some, but not all sister chromatids and subsequent spindle defects that include centriole separation. Cells with scattered chromosomes persist long-term in a mitotic state and eventually die or exit. Partial cohesion loss-associated scattering is observed in both transformed cells and in karyotypically normal human cells, albeit at lower penetrance. Suppressing microtubule dynamics reduces scattering, suggesting that cohesion at centromeres is unable to resist dynamic microtubule-dependent pulling forces on the kinetochores. Consistent with this view, strengthening cohesion by inhibiting the two pathways responsible for its removal significantly inhibits scattering. These results establish that chromosome scattering due to uncoordinated partial loss of chromatid cohesion is a common outcome following extended arrest with bioriented chromosomes in human cells. These findings have important implications for analysis of mitotic phenotypes in human cells and for development of anti-mitotic chemotherapeutic approaches in the treatment of cancer.
We systematically generated large-scale data sets to improve genome annotation for the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a key model organism. These data sets include transcriptome profiling across a developmental time course, genome-wide identification of transcription factor–binding sites, and maps of chromatin organization. From this, we created more complete and accurate gene models, including alternative splice forms and candidate noncoding RNAs. We constructed hierarchical networks of transcription factor–binding and microRNA interactions and discovered chromosomal locations bound by an unusually large number of transcription factors. Different patterns of chromatin composition and histone modification were revealed between chromosome arms and centers, with similarly prominent differences between autosomes and the X chromosome. Integrating data types, we built statistical models relating chromatin, transcription factor binding, and gene expression. Overall, our analyses ascribed putative functions to most of the conserved genome.
While reversible histone modifications are linked to an ever-expanding range of biological functions1–5, the demethylases for histone H4 lysine 20 and their potential regulatory roles remain unknown. Here, we report that the PHD and Jumonji C (JmjC) domain-containing protein, PHF8, while utilizing multiple substrates, including H3K9me1/2 and H3K27me2, also functions as an H4K20me1 demethylase. PHF8 is recruited to promoters by its PHD domain based on interaction with H3K4me2/3 and controls G1/S transition in conjunction with E2F1, HCF-1 and Set1A, at least in part, by removing the repressive H4K20me1 mark from a subset of E2F1-regulated gene promoters. Phosphorylation-dependent PHF8 dismissal from chromatin in prophase is apparently required for the accumulation of H4K20me1 during early mitosis, which might represent a component of the Condensin II loading process. Accordingly, the HEAT repeat clusters in two non-SMC Condensin II subunits, N-CAPD3 and N-CAPG2, are capable of recognizing H4K20me1, and ChIP-seq. analysis demonstrate a significant overlap of Condensin II and H4K20me1 sites in mitotic HeLa cells. Thus, the identification and characterization of the first H4K20me1 demethylase, PHF8, has revealed an intimate link between this enzyme and two distinct events in cell cycle progression.
The self-organized assembly of acentrosomal meiotic spindles has been extensively studied1 but little is known about how chromosomes segregate on these spindles. Here, we investigate two chromosome-microtubule interaction mechanisms—kinetochores and chromokinesins—during meiosis in fertilized C. elegans oocytes. We show that the conserved kinetochore protein KNL-1 directs assembly of meiotic kinetochores that orient chromosomes on the acentrosomal spindles. However, in contrast to mitosis, chromosome separation during meiotic anaphase was kinetochore-independent. The chromokinesin KLP-19 did not contribute to chromosome orientation or anaphase, but stabilized late anaphase spindles. Prior to anaphase separation, meiotic kinetochores and spindle poles disassembled along with microtubules on the poleward side of the chromosomes; during anaphase, microtubules were formed between the separating chromosomes. Functional analysis implicated a set of proteins that localize to a ring-shaped domain between the kinetochores in pre-anaphase spindle assembly and anaphase separation. Ring domain proteins are localized by the chromosomal passenger complex (CPC), whose local enrichment is patterned by recombination to control step-wise loss of meiotic cohesion2–4. Thus, meiotic segregation in C. elegans is a two-stage process where kinetochores orient chromosomes but are dispensable for their separation. We suggest that separation is instead controlled by a meiosis-specific chromosomal domain to coordinate step-wise dissolution of cohesion with chromosome segregation.
Meiosis; Chromosome segregation; Kinetochore; Centromere; Bub1; Clasp; Microtubule; Spindle
Aurora A kinase localizes to centrosomes and is required for centrosome maturation and spindle assembly. Here, we describe a microtubule-independent role for aurora A and centrosomes in nuclear envelope breakdown (NEBD) during the first mitotic division of the C. elegans embryo. Aurora A depletion does not alter the onset or kinetics of chromosome condensation, but dramatically lengthens the interval between the completion of condensation and NEBD. Inhibiting centrosome assembly by other means also lengthens this interval, albeit to a lesser extent than aurora A depletion. By contrast, centrosomally-nucleated microtubules and the nuclear envelope-associated motor dynein are not required for timely NEBD. These results indicate that mitotic centrosomes generate a diffusible factor, which we propose is activated aurora A, that promotes NEBD. A positive feedback loop, in which an aurora A-dependent increase in centrosome size promotes aurora A activation, may temporally couple centrosome maturation to NEBD during mitotic entry.
Centromeric chromatin – spindle microtubule interactions mediated by kinetochores drive chromosome segregation. We have developed a two-color fluorescence light microscopy method that measures average label separation, Delta, at < 5 nm accuracy — to elucidate the protein architecture of human metaphase kinetochores. Delta analysis, when correlated with tension states of spindle-attached sister kinetochore pairs, provided information on mechanical properties of protein linkages within kinetochores. Treatment with taxol—which suppresses microtubule dynamics, eliminates tension at kinetochores, and activates the spindle checkpoint—resulted in specific large-scale changes in kinetochore architecture. Cumulatively, Delta analysis revealed compliant linkages close to the centromeric chromatin, suggests a model for how the KMN (KNL1/Mis12 complex/Ndc80 complex) network provides microtubule attachment and generates pulling forces from depolymerization, and reveals architectural changes induced by taxol treatment. The methods described here should also be applicable to other intermediate-scale biological machines in cells.
centromere; chromosome; mitosis; cell division; tubulin; spindle; taxol; fluorescence microscopy
Signaling by the centrosomal asters and spindle midzone coordinately directs formation of the cytokinetic furrow. By analyzing the effects of altering inter-aster distance in the C. elegans embryo, Lewellyn et al. show that signaling by the separated asters couples furrow formation to anaphase onset and restricts furrowing to a single site.
Signaling by the centrosomal asters and spindle midzone coordinately directs formation of the cytokinetic furrow. Here, we explore the contribution of the asters by analyzing the consequences of altering interaster distance during the first cytokinesis of the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo. Delaying aster separation, by using TPXL-1 depletion to shorten the metaphase spindle, leads to a corresponding delay in furrow formation, but results in a single furrow that ingresses at a normal rate. Preventing aster separation, by simultaneously inhibiting TPXL-1 and Gα signaling-based cortical forces pulling on the asters, delays furrow formation and leads to the formation of multiple furrows that ingress toward the midzone. Disrupting midzone-based signaling, by depleting conserved midzone complexes, results in a converse phenotype: neither the timing nor the number of furrows is affected, but the rate of furrow ingression is decreased threefold. Simultaneously delaying aster separation and disrupting midzone-based signaling leads to complete failure of furrow formation. Based on these results, we propose that signaling by the separated asters executes two critical functions: 1) it couples furrow formation to anaphase onset by concentrating contractile ring proteins on the equatorial cortex in a midzone-independent manner and 2) it subsequently refines spindle midzone-based signaling to restrict furrowing to a single site.
During cytokinesis, the small GTPase RhoA orchestrates contractile ring assembly and constriction. RhoA signaling is controlled by the central spindle—a set of microtubule bundles that forms between the separating chromosomes. Centralspindlin, a protein complex consisting of the kinesin-6 ZEN-4, and the Rho GAP CYK-4, is required for central spindle assembly and cytokinesis. However, the importance of the CYK-4 GAP activity and whether it regulates RhoA remains unclear. Here, we show that two separation-of-function mutations in the GAP domain of C. elegans CYK-4 lead to cytokinesis defects that mimic Centralspindlin loss-of-function. These defects can be rescued by depletion of Rac or its effectors, but not RhoA. Our findings suggest that inactivation of Rac by Centralspindlin functions in parallel with RhoA activation to drive cytokinesis.
Kinetochores use the spindle checkpoint to delay anaphase onset until all chromosomes have formed bipolar attachments to spindle microtubules. Here, we use controlled monopolar spindle formation to systematically define the requirements for spindle checkpoint signaling in the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo. The results, when interpreted in light of kinetochore assembly epistasis analysis, indicate that checkpoint activation is coordinately directed by the NDC-80 complex, the Rod/Zwilch/Zw10 complex, and BUB-1—three components independently targeted to the outer kinetochore by the scaffold protein KNL-1. These components orchestrate the integration of a core Mad1MDF-1/Mad2MDF-2-based signal, with a largely independent Mad3SAN-1/BUB-3 pathway. Evidence for independence comes from the fact that subtly elevating Mad2MDF-2 levels bypasses the requirement for BUB-3 and Mad3SAN-1 in kinetochore-dependent checkpoint activation. Mad3SAN-1 does not accumulate at unattached kinetochores and BUB-3 kinetochore localization is independent of Mad2MDF-2. We discuss the rationale for a bipartite checkpoint mechanism in which a core Mad1MDF-1/Mad2MDF-2 signal generated at kinetochores is integrated with a separate cytoplasmic Mad3SAN-1/BUB-3–based pathway.
The four-subunit Ndc80 complex, comprised of Ndc80/Nuf2 and Spc24/Spc25 dimers, directly connects kinetochores to spindle microtubules. The complex is anchored to the kinetochore at the Spc24/25 end, and the Ndc80/Nuf2 dimer projects outward to bind to microtubules. Here, we use cryoelectron microscopy and helical image analysis to visualize the interaction of the Ndc80/Nuf2 dimer with microtubules. Our results, when combined with crystallography data, suggest that the globular domain of the Ndc80 subunit binds strongly at the interface between tubulin dimers and weakly at the adjacent intradimer interface along the protofilament axis. Such a binding mode, in which the Ndc80 complex interacts with sequential α/β-tubulin heterodimers, may be important for stabilizing kinetochore-bound microtubules. Additionally, we define the binding of the Ndc80 complex relative to microtubule polarity, which reveals that the microtubule interaction surface is at a considerable distance from the opposite kinetochore-anchored end; this binding geometry may facilitate polymerization and depolymerization at kinetochore-attached microtubule ends.
Kinetochores are proteinaceous complexes containing dozens of components; they are assembled at centromeric DNA regions and provide the major microtubule attachment site on chromosomes during cell division. Recent studies have defined the kinetochore components comprising the direct interface with spindle microtubules, primarily through structural and functional analysis of the Ndc80 and Dam1 complexes. These studies have facilitated our understanding of how kinetochores remain attached to the end of dynamic microtubules and how proper orientation of a kinetochore-microtubule attachment is promoted on the mitotic spindle. In this article, we review these recent studies and summarize their key findings.
Aneuploidy and chromosome instability (CIN) are hallmarks of the majority of solid tumors, but the relationship between them is not well understood. In this issue, Thompson and Compton (Thompson, S.L., and D.A. Compton. 2008. Examining the link between chromosomal instability and aneuploidy in human cells. J. Cell. Biol. 180:665–672) investigate the mechanism of CIN in cancer cells and find that CIN arises primarily from defective kinetochore–spindle attachments that evade detection by the spindle checkpoint and persist into anaphase. They also explore the consequences of artificially elevating chromosome missegregation in otherwise karyotypically normal cells. Their finding that induced aneuploidy is rapidly selected against suggests that the persistence of aneuploid cells in tumors requires not only chromosome missegregation but also additional, as yet poorly defined events.
Centrioles are surrounded by pericentriolar material (PCM), which is proposed to promote new centriole assembly by concentrating γ-tubulin. Here, we quantitatively monitor new centriole assembly in living Caenorhabditis elegans embryos, focusing on the conserved components SAS-4 and SAS-6. We show that SAS-4 and SAS-6 are coordinately recruited to the site of new centriole assembly and reach their maximum levels during S phase. Centriolar SAS-6 is subsequently reduced by a mechanism intrinsic to the early assembly pathway that does not require progression into mitosis. Centriolar SAS-4 remains in dynamic equilibrium with the cytoplasmic pool until late prophase, when it is stably incorporated in a step that requires γ-tubulin and microtubule assembly. These results indicate that γ-tubulin in the PCM stabilizes the nascent daughter centriole by promoting microtubule addition to its outer wall. Such a mechanism may help restrict new centriole assembly to the vicinity of preexisting parent centrioles that recruit PCM.