Background: The halving of chromosome number that occurs during meiosis depends on three factors. First, homologs must pair and recombine. Second, sister centromeres must attach to microtubules that emanate from the same spindle pole, which ensures that homologous maternal and paternal pairs can be pulled in opposite directions (called homolog biorientation). Third, cohesion between sister centromeres must persist after the first meiotic division to enable their biorientation at the second.
Results: A screen performed in fission yeast to identify meiotic chromosome missegregation mutants has identified a conserved protein called Sgo1 that is required to maintain sister chromatid cohesion after the first meiotic division. We describe here an orthologous protein in the budding yeast S. cerevisiae (Sc), which has not only meiotic but also mitotic chromosome segregation functions. Deletion of Sc SGO1 not only causes frequent homolog nondisjunction at meiosis I but also random segregation of sister centromeres at meiosis II. Meiotic cohesion fails to persist at centromeres after the first meiotic division, and sister centromeres frequently separate precociously. Sgo1 is a kinetochore-associated protein whose abundance declines at anaphase I but, nevertheless, persists on chromatin until anaphase II.
Conclusions: The finding that Sgo1 is localized to the centromere at the time of the first division suggests that it may play a direct role in preventing the removal of centromeric cohesin. The similarity in sequence composition, chromosomal location, and mutant phenotypes of sgo1 mutants in two distant yeasts with that of MEI-S332 in Drosophila suggests that these proteins define an orthologous family conserved in most eukaryotic lineages.