During meiosis, the stable pairing of the homologous chromosomes is mediated by the assembly of the synaptonemal complex (SC). Its tripartite structure is well conserved in Metazoa and consists of two lateral elements (LEs) and a central region (CR) that in turn is formed by several transverse filaments (TFs) and a central element (CE). In a previous article, we have shown that not only the structure, but also the major structural proteins SYCP1 (TFs) and SYCP3 (LEs) of the mammalian SC are conserved in metazoan evolution. In continuation of this work, we now investigated the evolution of the mammalian CE-specific proteins using phylogenetic and biochemical/cytological approaches. In analogy to the observations made for SYCP1 and SYCP3, we did not detect homologs of the mammalian CE proteins in insects or nematodes, but in several other metazoan clades. We were able to identify homologs of three mammalian CE proteins in several vertebrate and invertebrate species, for two of these proteins down to the basal-branching phylum of Cnidaria. Our approaches indicate that the SC arose only once, but evolved dynamically during diversification of Metazoa. Certain proteins appear to be ancient in animals, but successive addition of further components as well as protein loss and/or replacements have also taken place in some lineages.
Keywords: Hydra; Metazoa; mammals; meiosis; phylogeny; synaptonemal complex.