Organization and pairing of meiotic chromosomes in the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila

J Cell Sci. 2004 Nov 15;117(Pt 24):5791-801. doi: 10.1242/jcs.01504. Epub 2004 Nov 2.


During meiotic prophase in the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila micronuclei dramatically elongate and form thread-like crescents. The arrangement of the chromosomes within the crescent as well as the timing of chromosome pairing and recombination with respect to the elongation process have been subjects of ongoing debate. Here, we addressed these issues by means of fluorescence in situ hybridization, labeling of individual chromosomes by BrdU (BrdU-painting) and by immunostaining of the recombination protein, Rad51. BrdU-painting indicated that chromosomes are arranged as parallel bundles within the crescent, and telomere-directed fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) revealed that most if not all telomeres are assembled near one end of the developing crescent. Prior to full crescent formation, Rad51 localizes to chromatin as numerous foci. Locus-specific FISH demonstrated that close pairing of homologues only occurs in the full crescent. Meiotic DNA double-strand break formation and the initiation of recombination thus seem to precede close pairing. A synaptonemal complex was not detected. We conclude that the chromosomes adopt a polarized arrangement within the crescent, probably resembling the classical bouquet arrangement. Furthermore, we propose that the elongated shape of meiotic micronuclei promotes the parallel arrangement of chromosomes and supports the juxtaposition of homologous regions in the absence of a synaptonemal complex. Several pieces of evidence indicate the presence of one to four chiasmata per bivalent, which would call for crossover interference to explain regular bivalent formation in spite of this low mean number. Tetrahymena might, therefore, pose a case of interference in the absence of a synaptonemal complex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bromodeoxyuridine / pharmacology
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Chromosomes / ultrastructure
  • Coloring Agents / pharmacology
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Meiosis*
  • Micronuclei, Chromosome-Defective*
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Rad51 Recombinase
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Silver Staining
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / cytology*
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Coloring Agents
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Rad51 Recombinase
  • Bromodeoxyuridine