The asymmetric outcome of female meiosis I, whereby an entire set of chromosomes are discarded into a polar body, presents an opportunity for selfish genetic elements to cheat the process and disproportionately segregate to the egg. Centromeres, the chromosomal loci that connect to spindle microtubules, could potentially act as selfish elements and "drive" in meiosis. We review the current understanding of the genetic and epigenetic contributions to centromere identity and describe recent progress in a powerful model system to study centromere drive in mice. The progress includes mechanistic findings regarding two main requirements for a centromere to exploit the asymmetric outcome of female meiosis. The first is an asymmetry between centromeres of homologous chromosomes, and we found this is accomplished through massive changes in the abundance of the repetitive DNA underlying centromeric chromatin. The second requirement is an asymmetry in the meiotic spindle, which is achieved through signaling from the oocyte cortex that leads to asymmetry in a posttranslational modification of tubulin, tyrosination. Together, these two asymmetries culminate in the biased segregation of expanded centromeres to the egg, and we describe a mechanistic framework to understand this process.
© 2017 Lampson and Black; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.