The cohesin complex is built upon the SMC1/SMC3 heterodimer, and mammalian meiocytes feature two variants of SMC1 named SMC1α and SMC1β. It is unclear why these two SMC1 variants have evolved. To determine unique versus redundant functions of SMC1β, we asked which of the known functions of SMC1β can be fulfilled by SMC1α. Smc1α was expressed under control of the Smc1β promoter in either wild-type or SMC1β-deficient mice. No effect was seen in the former. However, several major phenotypes of SMC1β-deficient spermatocytes were rescued by SMC1α. We observed extended development before apoptosis and restoration of axial element and synaptonemal complex lengths, chromosome synapsis, sex body formation, processing of DNA double-strand breaks, and formation of MLH1 recombination foci. This supports the concept that the quantity rather than the specific quality of cohesin complexes is decisive for meiotic chromosome architecture. It also suggests plasticity in complex composition, because to replace SMC1β in many functions, SMC1α has to more extensively associate with other cohesins. The cells did not complete meiosis but died to the latest at the pachytene-to-diplotene transition. Telomere aberrations known from Smc1β-/- mice persisted, and DNA damage response and repair proteins accumulated there regardless of expression of SMC1α. Thus, whereas SMC1α can substitute for SMC1β in many functions, the protection of telomere integrity requires SMC1β.
Keywords: DNA recombination; DNA repair; chromosomes; cohesin; meiosis; spermatocytes; telomeres.
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