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Title: Studies in oocytes from three mammalian species demonstrate that meiotic kinetochores are composed of previously unidentified subdomains and reveal two novel mechanisms behind the maternal-age effect in humans
Author: Zielinska, Agata Pamela
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 9897
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Poor egg quality is the leading cause of pregnancy loss and Down's syndrome. While even eggs in young women frequently contain an incorrect number of chromosomes and are therefore unlikely to give rise to a viable pregnancy, the incidence of chromosomally abnormal eggs increases strikingly with advancing maternal age. Why egg quality declines dramatically as women approach their forties remains one of the outstanding questions in developmental biology. This PhD thesis demonstrates how unforeseen features of kinetochore organization that are unique to meiosis render this cell division process in mammals particularly prone to errors. Firstly, my results uncovered an unexpected multi-subunit organization of the meiotic kinetochore, which is widely conserved across mammals and biases eggs towards errors. Secondly, I identified two independent mechanisms that predispose eggs from older women to aneuploidy. The first mechanism affects the fidelity of meiosis I. My analysis revealed that human oocytes challenge the paradigm that sister kinetochores are fully fused. Instead, I demonstrated that sister kinetochores disjoin as women get older, which promoted erroneous kinetochore-microtubule attachments. This in turn allowed chromosomes to rotate on the spindle and provided a mechanistic explanation for reverse segregation - a recently discovered meiotic error that is unique to humans. Secondly, I pioneered the use of super-resolution microscopy to study chromosome architecture in human eggs and discovered that individual kinetochores during meiosis II in mammals are composed of previously unidentified subdomains. In young females, these subdomains are joined together by cohesin complexes. With age, kinetochores fragment into two pieces. Fragmented kinetochores frequently attach merotelically to spindle microtubules, which predisposes aged eggs to errors. What severely hinders our progress in identifying causes of human infertility is that numerous features of human meiosis are not represented in mice. To overcome this challenge, I developed an experimental platform to mimic the age-related changes that occur in humans in oocytes from young mice. I achieved this by extending the applications of Trim-Away, a novel method to degrade endogenous proteins even in primary cells, to partially deplete proteins. Furthermore, I established a new experimental model system to study human-like aspects of meiosis in live non-rodent cells in real time: pig oocytes. Together, these results set foundations for new therapeutic approaches to extend reproductive lifespan by counteracting the age-related loss in kinetochore integrity that this study identified. Furthermore, partial Trim-Away and studying meiosis in pigs opens new directions for meiotic research.
Supervisor: Schuh, Melina ; Bullock, Simon Sponsor: University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: oocyte ; meiosis ; human ; mouse ; pig ; maternal age-effect ; ageing ; kinetochore ; microtubule ; cohesin