, Volume 100, Issue 6, pp 410–418 | Cite as

Scanning electron microscopy of mammalian chromosomes from prophase to telophase

  • A. T. Sumner


Changes in the morphology of human and murine chromosomes during the different stages of mitosis have been examined by scanning electron microscopy. Two important findings have emerged from this study. The first is that prophase chromosomes do not become split into pairs of chromatids until late prophase or early metaphase. This entails two distinct processes of condensation, the earlier one starting as condensations of chromosomes into chromomeres which then fuse to form a cylindrical body. After this cylindrical body has split in two longitudinally, further condensation occurs by mechanisms that probably include coiling of the chromatids as well as other processes. The second finding is that the centromeric heterochromatin does not split in two at the same time as the rest of the chromosome, but remains undivided until anaphase. It is proposed that the function of centromeric heterochromatin is to hold the chromatids together until anaphase, when they are separated by the concerted action of topoisomerase II acting on numerous similar sites provided by the repetitive nature of the satellite DNA in the heterochromatin. A lower limit to the size of blocks of centromeric heterochromatin is placed by the need for adequate mechanical strength to hold the chromatids together, and a higher limit by the necessity for rapid splitting of the heterochromatin at anaphase. Beyond these limits malsegregation will occur, leading to aneuploidy. Because the centromere remains undivided until anaphase, it cannot undergo the later stage of condensation found in the chromosome arms after separation into chromatids, and therefore the centromere remains as a constriction.


Electron Microscopy Scan Electron Microscopy Lower Limit Developmental Biology Mechanical Strength 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. T. Sumner
    • 1
  1. 1.MRC Human Genetics UnitWestern General HospitalEdinburghUK

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