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Title: Transcriptional and developmental consequences of aneuploidy during male meiosis
Author: Ernst, Christina
ISNI:       0000 0004 7426 5589
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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Eukaryotes have developed stringent regulatory mechanisms that control cell division and ensure proper chromosome segregation. Maintaining genome integrity is especially important during meiosis, the specialised cell division programme in the germline that generates haploid gametes. As these cells transmit genetic information to the next generation, the consequences of meiotic errors are not restricted to an organismal level, but can directly impact the fitness of the offspring. Mammals display a high degree of sexual dimorphism in meiosis with regard to the stringency of regulatory mechanisms. This manifests in a relatively high degree of maternally-derived aneuploidies due to weaker checkpoint control in females, whereas more rigorous checkpoints in males frequently perturb fertility. Mouse models of aneuploidy often exhibit complete male sterility and early germ cell arrest, preventing the study of aneuploidy during late and post-meiotic stages in males. In this thesis, we have used the trans-chromosomic mouse model, Tc1, which carries a single copy of human chromosome 21 (HsChr21) and show that, unlike other aneuploid mouse strains, the Tc1 mouse can successfully passage the exogenous human chromosome through male meiosis and generate aneuploid offspring. Our investigations have shown that the presence of the aneuploid human chromosome causes spermatogenic defects due to an arrest at the first meiotic division. Despite this impairment, we found an unexpectedly high number of aneuploid gametes in Tc1 males and the majority of males were able to produce aneuploid offspring, albeit at a lower frequency. Transmission of HsChr21 through the male germline was less efficient compared to female germline transmission, but allowed us to study the impact of male germline-associated chromatin remodelling on the transcriptional deployment of HsChr21 in the offspring. This revealed that, despite fundamentally different developmental dynamics, male- versus female-germline passage result in indistinguishable transcriptional and regulatory phenotypes. An important pathway in the male germline involves the expression of piRNAs, a class of small non-coding RNAs that are commonly found in the germline of animals where they defend cells against transposable elements. Profiling the expression of small RNAs in the Tc1 mouse showed that conserved human piRNA clusters can be successfully transcribed by the mouse piRNA machinery. In addition, we detected Tc1-specific piRNA sequences that were neither present in human nor mouse, mapping to a human-specific repeat element. In line with the previously observed activation of human-specific repeat elements in the Tc1 mouse, this suggests that novel transcripts arising from human repeats can trigger an adaptive piRNA response, thereby demonstrating the plasticity of this pathway to newly invading repeat elements. Transcriptional profiling of spermatogenic cell populations on a single-cell level allowed us to generate an atlas of gene expression over the course of spermatogenesis and dissect meiotic silencing dynamics in the presence of aneuploidy. Transcriptional silencing during meiosis occurs in response to unpaired chromosomes and, in male germ cells, affects the sex chromosomes due to their largely unpaired nature. We found that the presence of HsChr21 has no impact on the silencing of chromosome X, however, the two chromosomes display drastically different silencing patterns with HsChr21 showing a much weaker repression. Taken together, this study revealed a higher than expected tolerance for aneuploidy in the mouse male germline thus allowing the characterisation of meiotic checkpoint mechanisms, the meiotic silencing response to unpaired chromosomes as well as piRNA expression in the presence of an exogenous human chromosome.
Supervisor: Odom, Duncan Sponsor: Cancer Research UK
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Male meiosis ; Epigenetics ; Development ; piRNAs ; Spermatogenesis ; Aneuploidy ; Single-cell RNA-Seq ; Meiotic silencing ; Chromatin