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The formation of the sex vesicle, or XY body, during male meiosis and pairing of the sex chromosomes are thought to be essential for successful spermatogenesis. Despite its cytological discovery a century ago, the mechanism of XY body formation, particularly heterochromatinization of the sex chromosomes, has remained unclear. The HP1 class of chromobox genes are thought to encode proteins involved in the packaging of chromosomal DNA into repressive heterochromatin domains, as seen, for example, in position-effect variegation. Study of the distribution of a murine HP1-like chromodomain protein, M31, during spermatogenesis revealed spreading from the tip of the XY body in mid-stage pachytene spermatocytes to include the whole of the XY body in late-pachytene spermatocytes. We also demonstrate that the formation of the XY body during spermatogenic progression in neonatal mice coincides with the expression of a novel nuclear isoform of M31, M31p21. These results support the view that a common mechanistic basis exists for heterochromatin-induced repression, homeotic gene silencing, and sex-chromosome inactivation during mammalian spermatogenesis.
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