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The synaptonemal complex has liquid crystalline properties and spatially regulates meiotic recombination factors

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The synaptonemal complex (SC) is a polymer that spans ~100 nm between paired homologous chromosomes during meiosis. Its striated, periodic appearance in electron micrographs led to the idea that transverse filaments within this structure 'crosslink' the axes of homologous chromosomes, stabilizing their pairing. SC proteins can also form polycomplexes, three-dimensional lattices that recapitulate the periodic structure of SCs but do not associate with chromosomes. Here we provide evidence that SCs and polycomplexes contain mobile subunits and that their assembly is promoted by weak hydrophobic interactions, indicative of a liquid crystalline phase. We further show that in the absence of recombination intermediates, polycomplexes recapitulate the dynamic localization of pro-crossover factors during meiotic progression, revealing how the SC might act as a conduit to regulate chromosome-wide crossover distribution. Properties unique to liquid crystals likely enable long-range signal transduction along meiotic chromosomes and underlie the rapid evolution of SC proteins.

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