The axial cores of chromosomes in the meiotic prophase nuclei of most sexually reproducing organisms play a pivotal role in the arrangement of chromatin, in the synapsis of homologous chromosomes, in the process of genetic recombination, and in the disjunction of chromosomes. We report an immunogold analysis of the axial cores and the synaptonemal complexes (SC) using two mouse monoclonal antibodies raised against isolated rat SCs. In Western blots of purified SCs, antibody II52F10 recognizes a 30- and a 33-kD peptide (Heyting, C., P. B. Moens, W. van Raamsdonk, A. J. J. Dietrich, A. C. G. Vink, and E. J. W. Redeker, 1987, Eur. J. Cell Biol., 43: 148-154). In spreads of rat spermatocyte nuclei it produces gold grains over the cores of autosomal and sex chromosomes. The cores label lightly during the chromosome pairing stage (zygotene) of early meiotic prophase and they become more intensely labeled when they are parallel aligned as the lateral elements of the SC during pachytene (55 grains/micron SC). Statistical analysis of electronically recorded gold grain positions shows that the two means of the bimodal gold grain distribution coincide with the centers of the lateral elements. At diplotene, when the cores separate, the antigen is still detected along the length of the core and the enlarged ends are heavily labeled. Shadow-cast SC preparations show that recombination nodules are not labeled. The continued presence suggests that the antigens serve a continuing function in the cores, such as chromatin binding, and/or structural integrity. Antibody III15B8, which does not recognize the 30- and 33-kD peptides, produces gold grains predominantly between the lateral elements. The grain distribution is bimodal with the mean of each peak just inside the pairing face of the lateral element. The antigen is present where and while the cores of the homologous chromosomes are paired. From the location and the timing, it is assumed that the antigen recognized by III15B8 functions in chromosome pairing at meiotic prophase. The two anti-rat SC antibodies label rat and mouse SCs but not rabbit or dog SCs. A positive control using human CREST (calcinosis, Raynaud's phenomenon, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly, telangiectasia) anti-centromere serum gives equivalent labeling of SC centromeres in the rat, mouse, rabbit, and dog. It is concluded that the SC antigens recognized by II52F10 and III15B8 are not widely conserved. The two antibodies do not bind to cellular or nuclear components of somatic cells.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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