Meiotic silencing in mammals


Meiosis is essential for reproduction in sexually reproducing organisms. A key stage in meiosis is the synapsis of maternal and paternal homologous chromosomes, accompanied by exchange of genetic material to generate crossovers. A decade ago, studies found that when chromosomes fail to synapse, the many hundreds of genes housed within them are transcriptionally inactivated. This process, meiotic silencing, is conserved in all mammals studied to date, but its purpose is not yet defined. Here, I review the molecular genetics of meiotic silencing and consider the many potential functions that it could serve in the mammalian germ line. In addition, I discuss how meiotic silencing influences sex differences in meiotic infertility and the profound impact that meiotic silencing has had on the evolution of mammalian sex chromosomes.