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Teruhito Ishihara, Oliver W Griffith, Gerard A Tarulli, and Marilyn B Renfree

Male germ cells undergo two consecutive processes – pre-spermatogenesis and spermatogenesis – to generate mature sperm. In eutherian mammals, epigenetic information such as DNA methylation is dynamically reprogrammed during pre-spermatogenesis, before and during mitotic arrest. In mice, by the time germ cells resume mitosis, the majority of DNA methylation is reprogrammed. The tammar wallaby has a similar pattern of germ cell global DNA methylation reprogramming to that of the mouse during early pre-spermatogenesis. However, early male germline development in the tammar or in any marsupial has not been described previously, so it is unknown whether this is a general feature regulating male germline development or a more recent phenomenon in mammalian evolutionary history. To answer this, we examined germ cell nuclear morphology and mitotic arrest during male germline development in the tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), a marsupial that diverged from mice and humans around 160 million years ago. Tammar pro-spermatogonia proliferated after birth and entered mitotic arrest after day 30 postpartum (pp). At this time, they began moving towards the periphery of the testis cords and their nuclear size increased. Germ cells increased in number after day 100 pp which is the time that DNA methylation is known to be re-established in the tammar. This is similar to the pattern observed in the mouse, suggesting that resumption of germ cell mitosis and the timing of DNA methylation reprogramming are correlated and conserved across mammals and over long evolutionary timescales.

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Teruhito Ishihara, Jane C Fenelon, Oliver W Griffith, Kei-ichiro Ishiguro, and Marilyn B Renfree

In brief

Apart from mice, meiosis initiation factors and their transcriptional regulation mechanisms are largely unknown in mammals. This study suggests that STRA8 and MEIOSIN are both meiosis initiation factors in mammals, but their transcription is epigenetically regulated differently from each other.


In the mouse, the timing of meiosis onset differs between sexes due to the sex-specific regulation of the meiosis initiation factors, STRA8 and MEIOSIN. Before the initiation of meiotic prophase I, the Stra8 promoter loses suppressive histone-3-lysine-27 trimethylation (H3K27me3) in both sexes, suggesting that H3K27me3-associated chromatin remodelling may be responsible for activating STRA8 and its co-factor MEIOSIN. Here we examined MEIOSIN and STRA8 expression in a eutherian (the mouse), two marsupials (the grey short-tailed opossum and the tammar wallaby) and two monotremes (the platypus and the short-beaked echidna) to ask whether this pathway is conserved between all mammals. The conserved expression of both genes in all three mammalian groups and of MEIOSIN and STRA8 protein in therian mammals suggests that they are the meiosis initiation factors in all mammals. Analyses of published DNase-seq and chromatin-immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-seq) data sets confirmed that H3K27me3-associated chromatin remodelling occurred at the STRA8, but not the MEIOSIN, promoter in therian mammals. Furthermore, culturing tammar ovaries with an inhibitor of H3K27me3 demethylation before meiotic prophase I affected STRA8 but not MEIOSIN transcriptional levels. Our data suggest that H3K27me3-associated chromatin remodelling is an ancestral mechanism that allows STRA8 expression in mammalian pre-meiotic germ cells.