Moses in 1956 first discovered synaptonemal complex (SC), a feature of meiotic prophase. Synaptonemal complex is a tripartite structure usually found between the two paired homologous chromosomes of each bivalent in all animal and plant nuclei undergoing meiosis. This is considered to be a physical structure which is associated with synapsis of homologous chromosomes. Complete synaptonemal complexes are seen at zygonema in the region of pairing. At pachynema these complexes are even more conspicuous.
Sometimes synaptonemal complex like structures are also found which are not associated with synapsed chromosomes. They show some similarities with the true synaptonemal complex. The lateral elements of these anomalous complexes may differ in size and density from those in the true synaptonemal complexes of that species. However, the true autosomal synaptonemal complex is always a unit tripartite complex but anomalous complexes are often multiple stacks of alternating lateral elements and central elements.
The exact nature of events that lead to synapsis is still a subject of debate. A strong group of investigators believe that homologous chromosomes are prepared for synaptic pairing by the attachment of their telomeres to so- called 'attachment sites' on the nuclear envelope. This is believed to be followed by attachment of zygosomes to central segments of synaptomeres and to 'adjacent zygosomes. When each synaptomere has a zygosome, pegs extend from chromosome folds and pairing extends in a zipper like action.
Function of synaptonemal complex. The appearance and disappearance of the synaptonemal complex coincide with the stages of meiosis in which pairing and recombination occur. This has led to the interpretation that they are functionally related. In leptonema, before pairing, single elements of synaptonemal complex are observed. Complete synaptonemal complexes are seen at zygonema in the region of pairing.
Several pieces of evidence indicate that the synaptonemal complex is more directly related to the process of recombination. Some evidence, for example, is provided by the action of inhibitors of DNA synthesis. At meiotic prophase, there is a small amount of DNA synthesis which, if inhibited, can arrest the function of the synaptonemal complexes.
The synaptonemal complex has been interpreted as a protein framework that permits the proper alignment of the homologous chromosomes. However, since recombination by crossing over Occurs at molecular level, it is necessary to assume that DNA fibres of the paired chromatids should reach the central component of S.C. within a distance of at least 1.0 μm for the recombination to take place. At diplonema the synaptonemal complex is shed from the bivalents with the exceptions of the regions in which the repelling homologues are held together each by a chiasma. Thus, a chiasma contains a piece of synaptonemal complex that will ultimately disappear and will be replaced by a chromatin bridge.
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