The synaptonemal complex (SC) is a proteinaceous, meiosis-specific structure that is highly conserved in evolution. During meiosis, the SC mediates synapsis of homologous chromosomes. It is essential for proper recombination and segregation of homologous chromosomes, and therefore for genome haploidization. Mutations in human SC genes can cause infertility. In order to gain a better understanding of the process of SC assembly in a model system that would be relevant for humans, we are investigating meiosis in mice. Here, we report on a newly identified component of the murine SC, which we named SYCE3. SYCE3 is strongly conserved among mammals and localizes to the central element (CE) of the SC. By generating a Syce3 knockout mouse, we found that SYCE3 is required for fertility in both sexes. Loss of SYCE3 blocks synapsis initiation and results in meiotic arrest. In the absence of SYCE3, initiation of meiotic recombination appears to be normal, but its progression is severely impaired resulting in complete absence of MLH1 foci, which are presumed markers of crossovers in wild-type meiocytes. In the process of SC assembly, SYCE3 is required downstream of transverse filament protein SYCP1, but upstream of the other previously described CE-specific proteins. We conclude that SYCE3 enables chromosome loading of the other CE-specific proteins, which in turn would promote synapsis between homologous chromosomes.