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Qing-Yuan Sun and Heide Schatten

Actin filaments (microfilaments) regulate various dynamic events during oocyte meiotic maturation and fertilization. In most species, microfilaments are not required for germinal vesicle breakdown and meiotic spindle formation, but they mediate peripheral nucleus (chromosome) migration, cortical spindle anchorage, homologous chromosome separation, cortex development/maintenance, polarity establishment, and first polar body emission during oocyte maturation. Peripheral cortical granule migration is controlled by microfilaments, while mitochondria movement is mediated by microtubules. During fertilization, microfilaments are involved in sperm incorporation, spindle rotation (mouse), cortical granule exocytosis, second polar body emission and cleavage ring formation, but are not required for pronuclear apposition (except for the mouse). Many of the events are driven by the dynamic interactions between myosin and actin filaments whose polymerization is regulated by RhoA, Cdc42, Arp2/3 and other signaling molecules. Studies have also shown that oocyte cortex organization and polarity formation mediated by actin filaments are regulated by mitogen-activated protein kinase, myosin light-chain kinase, protein kinase C and its substrate p-MARKS as well as PAR proteins. The completion of several dynamic events, including homologous chromosome separation, spindle anchorage, spindle rotation, vesicle organelle transport and pronuclear apposition (mouse), requires interactions between microfilaments and microtubules, but determination of how the two systems of the cytoskeleton precisely cross-link, and which proteins link microfilaments to microtubules to perform functions in eggs, requires further studies. Finally, the meaning of microfilament-mediated oocyte polarity versus embryo polarity and embryo development in different species (Drosophila, Xenopus and mouse) is discussed.

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Heide Schatten and Qing-Yuan Sun

In non-rodent mammalian species, including humans, the oocyte and sperm both contribute centrosomal components that are most important for successful fertilization. Centrosome pathologies in sperm and the oocyte can be causes for infertility which may be overcome by assisted reproductive technologies based on proper diagnosis of specific centrosomal pathologies. However, we do not yet fully understand the cell and molecular mechanisms underlying centrosome functions in germ cells and in the developing embryo, which calls for directed specific investigations to identify centrosome-related pathologies that include components in sperm, egg, or centrosome regulation within the fertilized oocyte. The present review highlights cellular and molecular aspects of centrosomes and centrosome–nuclear interactions focused on nuclear mitotic apparatus protein during fertilization and proposes future directions in expanding therapeutic approaches related to centrosome pathologies that may play a role in still unexplained causes of infertility.

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Zhen-Yu Zheng, Qing-Zhang Li, Da-Yuan Chen, Heide Schatten and Qing-Yuan Sun

The protein kinase Cs (PKCs) are a family of Ser/Thr protein kinases categorized into three subfamilies: classical, novel, and atypical. The phosphorylation of PKC in germ cells is not well defined. In this study, we described the subcellular localization of phopho-PKC in the process of mouse oocyte maturation, fertilization, and early embryonic mitosis. Confocal microscopy revealed that phospho-PKC (pan) was distributed abundantly in the nucleus at the germinal vesicle stage. After germinal vesicle breakdown, phospho-PKC was localized in the vicinity of the condensed chromosomes, distributed in the whole meiotic spindle, and concentrated at the spindle poles. After metaphase I, phospho-PKC was translocated gradually to the spindle mid-zone during emission of the first polar body. After sperm penetration and electrical activation, the distribution of phospho-PKC was moved from the spindle poles to the spindle mid-zone. After the extrusion of the second polar body (PB2) phospho-PKC was localized in the area between the oocyte and the PB2. In fertilized eggs, phospho-PKC was concentrated in the pronuclei except for the nucleolus. Phospho-PKC was dispersed after pronuclear envelope breakdown, but distributed on the entire spindle at mitotic metaphase. The results suggest that PKC activation may play important roles in regulating spindle organization and stabilization, polar-body extrusion, and nuclear activity during mouse oocyte meiosis, fertilization, and early embryonic mitosis.

Open access

Zhao-Jia Ge, Heide Schatten, Cui-Lian Zhang and Qing-Yuan Sun

It has become a current social trend for women to delay childbearing. However, the quality of oocytes from older females is compromised and the pregnancy rate of older women is lower. With the increased rate of delayed childbearing, it is becoming more and more crucial to understand the mechanisms underlying the compromised quality of oocytes from older women, including mitochondrial dysfunctions, aneuploidy and epigenetic changes. Establishing proper epigenetic modifications during oogenesis and early embryo development is an important aspect in reproduction. The reprogramming process may be influenced by external and internal factors that result in improper epigenetic changes in germ cells. Furthermore, germ cell epigenetic changes might be inherited by the next generations. In this review, we briefly summarise the effects of ageing on oocyte quality. We focus on discussing the relationship between ageing and epigenetic modifications, highlighting the epigenetic changes in oocytes from advanced-age females and in post-ovulatory aged oocytes as well as the possible underlying mechanisms.

Free access

Yun-Kao Cao, Zhi-Sheng Zhong, Da-Yuan Chen, Gui-Xue Zhang, Heide Schatten and Qing-Yuan Sun

The small GTPase Ran controls numerous cellular processes of the mitotic cell cycle. In this experiment, we investigated the localization and possible roles of Ran during mouse oocyte meiotic maturation, fertilization and early cleavage by using confocal laser scanning microscopy, antibody microinjection and microtubule disturbance. The results showed that Ran was localized mainly in the nucleus (except for the nucleolus) in the oocyte, zygote and early embryo. At pro-metaphase of meiosis I, Ran distributed throughout the cell, but predominantly concentrated around the condensed chromosomes. During the completion of meiosis I and meiosis II, it concentrated to the meiotic spindle microtubules except for the midbody region. After sperm penetration, Ran dispersed with the extrusion of the second polar body and gradually concentrated in the male and female pronuclei thereafter. Ran was also observed to exist diffusely in the cytoplasm in prophase; it concentrated at the mitotic spindle, and migrated to the nucleus during early cleavage. Ran’s concentration around the spindle disappeared when microtubule assembly was inhibited by colchicine, while it was concentrated around the chromosomes after microtubule stabilization with taxol treatment. Ran did not display any role in cytokinesis during division when pseudo-cleavage of germinal vesicle-intact oocytes was induced. Anti-Ran antibody microinjection decreased the germinal vesicle breakdown and the first polar body extrusion, and distorted spindle organization and chromosome alignment. Our results indicate that Ran has a cell cycle-dependent localization and may have regulatory roles in cell cycle progression and microtubule organization in mouse oocytes, fertilized eggs and early embryos.