Regulation of chromosome segregation in oocytes and the cellular basis for female meiotic errors

Jessica Greaney, Zhe Wei, Hayden Homer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Meiotic chromosome segregation in human oocytes is notoriously error-prone, especially with ageing. Such errors markedly reduce the reproductive chances of increasing numbers of women embarking on pregnancy later in life. However, understanding the basis for these errors is hampered by limited access to human oocytes. OBJECTIVE AND RATIONALE: Important new discoveries have arisen from molecular analyses of human female recombination and aneuploidy along with high-resolution analyses of human oocyte maturation and mouse models. Here, we review these findings to provide a contemporary picture of the key players choreographing chromosome segregation in mammalian oocytes and the cellular basis for errors. SEARCH METHODS: A search of PubMed was conducted using keywords including meiosis, oocytes, recombination, cohesion, cohesin complex, chromosome segregation, kinetochores, spindle, aneuploidy, meiotic cell cycle, spindle assembly checkpoint, anaphasepromoting complex, DNA damage, telomeres, mitochondria, female ageing and female fertility. We extracted papers focusing on mouse and human oocytes that best aligned with the themes of this review and that reported transformative and novel discoveries. OUTCOMES: Meiosis incorporates two sequential rounds of chromosome segregation executed by a spindle whose component microtubules bind chromosomes via kinetochores. Cohesion mediated by the cohesin complex holds chromosomes together and should be resolved at the appropriate time, in a specific step-wise manner and in conjunction with meiotically programmed kinetochore behaviour. In women, the stage is set for meiotic error even before birth when female-specific crossover maturation inefficiency leads to the formation of at-risk recombination patterns. In adult life, multiple co-conspiring factors interact with at-risk crossovers to increase the likelihood of mis-segregation. Available evidence support that these factors include, but are not limited to, cohesion deterioration, uncoordinated sister kinetochore behaviour, erroneous microtubule attachments, spindle instability and structural chromosomal defects that impact centromeres and telomeres. Data from mice indicate that cohesin and centromere-specific histones are long-lived proteins in oocytes. Since these proteins are pivotal for chromosome segregation, but lack any obvious renewal pathway, their deterioration with age provides an appealing explanation for at least some of the problems in older oocytes. WIDER IMPLICATIONS: Research in the mouse model has identified a number of candidate genes and pathways that are important for chromosome segregation in this species. However, many of these have not yet been investigated in human oocytes so it is uncertain at this stage to what extent they apply to women. The challenge for the future involves applying emerging knowledge of female meiotic molecular regulation towards improving clinical fertility management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-161
Number of pages27
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Anaphase-promoting complex
  • Aneuploidy
  • Chromosome segregation
  • Cohesion
  • Female ageing
  • Female fertility
  • Kinetochore
  • Meiosis
  • Oocyte
  • Spindle assembly checkpoint

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