, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 269–286 | Cite as

Whole mount electron microscopy of meiotic chromosomes and the synaptonemal complex

  • David E. Comings
  • Tadashi A. Okada


The mechanism by which homologous chromosomes pair and crossover has been a major unsolved problem in genetics. Thin section electron microscopy of the synaptonemal complex has not provided enough details to allow any significant insight into this problem. Whole mount preparations of the testis of mice, quail, crayfish, and frogs provided a striking improvement in visualization of the morphological features of meiotic chromosomes. These studies, when combined with the use of deoxyribonuclease and trypsin allowed the following conclusions. 1. The synaptonemal complex (lateral and central elements with connecting L-C fibers) is composed of protein. 2. Contrary to common speculation the central element is not the pairing surface of homologous chromosomes. 3. The L-C fibers, averaging 75–100 Å in width, extend from the lateral elements and meet to form the central element which is usually composed of four fibers. 4. During leptotene, homologous axial elements, although unpaired for most of their length, attach next to each other at the nuclear membrane. 5. Short segments of the chromatin fibers attach to the lateral elements. These points of attachment are clustered, producing the chromomeres seen by light microscopy. 6. The chromatin fibers extend out from the lateral element as loops. Lampbrush chromosomes are thus not restricted to oogenesis but are common to all meiotic chromosomes.

Since the morphological features of the central element of the synaptonemal complex persist despite extensive deoxyribonuclease digestion, pairing is perhaps best visualized as a two-step process consisting of a) chromosomal pairing during which the proteinaceous synaptonemal complex pulls homologous chromosomes into approximate association with each other, and b) molecular pairing, which probably takes place in the area around the synaptonemal complex.


Chromosomal Pairing Central Element Homologous Chromosome Synaptonemal Complex Meiotic Chromosome 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • David E. Comings
    • 1
  • Tadashi A. Okada
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medical GeneticsCity of Hope Medical CenterDuarte

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