Meiotic prophase serves as an arena for the interplay of two important cellular activities, meiotic recombination and synapsis of homologous chromosomes. Synapsis is mediated by the synaptonemal complex (SC), originally characterized as a structure linked to pairing of meiotic chromosomes (Moses (1958) J Biophys Biochem Cytol 4:633-638). In 1975, the first electron micrographs of human pachytene stage SCs were presented (Moses et al. (1975) Science 187:363-365) and over the next 15 years the importance of the SC to normal meiotic progression in human males and females was established (Jhanwar and Chaganti (1980) Hum Genet 54:405-408; Pathak and Elder (1980) Hum Genet 54:171-175; Solari (1980) Chromosoma 81:315-337; Speed (1984) Hum Genet 66:176-180; Wallace and Hulten (1985) Ann Hum Genet 49(Pt 3):215-226). Further, these studies made it clear that abnormalities in the assembly or maintenance of the SC were an important contributor to human infertility (Chaganti et al. (1980) Am J Hum Genet 32:833-848; Vidal et al. (1982) Hum Genet 60:301-304; Bojko (1983) Carlsberg Res Commun 48:285-305; Bojko (1985) Carlsberg Res Commun 50:43-72; Templado et al. (1984) Hum Genet 67:162-165; Navarro et al. (1986) Hum Reprod 1:523-527; Garcia et al. (1989) Hum Genet 2:147-53). However, the utility of these early studies was limited by lack of information on the structural composition of the SC and the identity of other SC-associated proteins. Fortunately, studies of the past 15 years have gone a long way toward remedying this problem. In this minireview, we highlight the most important of these advances as they pertain to human meiosis, focusing on temporal aspects of SC assembly, the relationship between the SC and meiotic recombination, and the contribution of SC abnormalities to human infertility.