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Rad21l1 cohesin subunit is dispensable for spermatogenesis but not oogenesis in zebrafish

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Meiosis produces haploid gametes that will give rise to the next diploid generation. Chromosome segregation errors occurring at one or both meiotic divisions result in aneuploidy, which can lead to miscarriages or birth defects in humans. During meiosis I, ring-shaped cohesin complexes play important roles to aid in the proper segregation of homologous chromosomes. While REC8 is a specialized meiosis-specific cohesin that functions to hold sister chromatids together, the role of its vertebrate-specific paralog, RAD21L, is poorly understood. Here we tested if Rad21l1, the zebrafish homolog of human and mouse RAD21L, is required for meiotic chromosome dynamics during oogenesis and spermatogenesis. We found that Rad21l1 is an abundant component of meiotic chromosomes where it localizes to both the chromosome axes and the transverse filament of the synaptonemal complex (SC). Knocking out rad21l1 causes nearly the entire mutant population to develop as fertile males, suggesting the mutation triggers a sex reversal from female to male due to a failure in oocyte production. The rad21l1 −/− mutant males display normal fertility at sexual maturity. Sex reversal was partially suppressed in the absence of tp53, suggesting that the rad21l1 −/− mutation causes defects leading to a Tp53 dependent response, specifically in females. The rad21l1 −/− ;tp53 −/− double mutant females produced elevated rates of decomposing eggs and deformed offspring compared to tp53 −/− controls. This response, however, is not linked to a defect in repairing Spo11-induced double-strand breaks since deletion of Spo11 does not suppress the sex reversal phenotype. Overall, our data highlight an exceptional sexually dimorphic phenotype caused by knocking out a meiotic-specific cohesin subunit. We propose that Rad21l1 is required for maintaining the integrity of meiotic chromatin architecture during oogenesis.

Author Summary

A prominent symptom of age-linked reproductive decline in women is the increased rate of miscarriage and birth defects due to aneuploidy. Aneuploidy can arise when chromosomes fail to segregate properly during meiosis, the process of creating haploid gametes from a diploid germ cell. Oocyte progression normally arrests prior to anaphase I, after homologous chromosomes have formed crossovers, but before ovulation, which triggers the first round of segregation. This prolonged arrest makes oocytes especially vulnerable to degradation of meiotic chromosome structure and homolog connections over time. Cohesin complexes play a major role in maintaining the meiotic chromosome architecture. Here we assess the role of the vertebrate-specific Rad21l1 cohesin subunit in zebrafish. We find that while males appear mostly unaffected by loss of Rad21l1, oocyte production is massively compromised, leading to sex reversion to males. Sex reversion can be partially prevented in the absence of Tp53, demonstrating that loss or Rad21l1 leads to a Tp53-dependent response in oocytes. Strikingly, double mutant rad21l1 tp53 females produce large numbers of poor quality eggs and malformed offspring. This demonstrates a cohesin-linked vulnerability in female meiosis not present in males and sheds light on a potential mechanism associated with the decline in female reproductive health.

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