Studies of mammalian germ cell development and meiosis

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*** New Lab Pets Page ***

COMING SOON: Meiosis Resources


  • Meiotic Recombination
  • Small RNAs in Recombination
  • Fanconi Anemia
  • MAPK
  • NEK1

The Cohen lab has been instrumental in defining the role of the DNA mismatch repair (MMR) pathway in mammalian meiosis. Using mouse mutants for each of the mammalian MMR orthologs, we have determined that MSH4/MSH5 heterodimers recruit MLH1/MLiH3 to class I crossover sites in order to specify the appropriate number and spacing of crossover events in the mammalian genome.

Our continued research in this area focuses on how these crossover mediators of the class I pathway interact with mediators of the class II pathway, through recruitment and integration via key helicases and endonucleases such as BLM, EXO1, and SLX4. In addition, we are currently investigating the role of the cyclin n-terminal domain containing protein-1 (CNTD1) in controlling class I crossing over. For more details click on image.

Small RNAs are known to be important regulators of germ cell development, primarily through the action of the germline-specific PIWI-interacting, or piRNAs. Recently, our lab has explored the role of the Argonaute family of small RNA binding proteins, focussing specifically on the class of Argonautes that are specific to microRNA and endosiRNA species, but which do not interact with the piRNAs.

Our data demonstrate that AGO4 binds microRNAs in mammalian germ cells and that this interaction is important for numerous aspects of germ cell development, particularly in meiosis. Our continued studies in this area are aimed at understanding how AGO4 and its RNA binding partners mediate essential events during prophase I and beyond in the mouse. These studies formed the basis for our recently awarded U54 Center Grant, as part of the NICHD "Specialized Co-operative Centers Program in Reproduction". For more details click on image.

While studying proteins that may influence meiotic crossing over in the mouse, we became interested in the newest member of the Fanconi Anemia pathway, SLX4 or FANCP. SLX4 interacts with key components of the recombinogenic machinery in mammals and, as such, is well placed to regulate cross over pathways as described elsewhere in this website.

In addition to its role in meiotic recombination, we are also investigating the role of the Fanconi network as a whole, but FANCP/SLX4 more specifically, in germ cell development. Led by Dr. Kim Holloway, these studies are aimed at understanding the role of the FA network in germ cell proliferation and genome maintenance in primordial germ cells. For more details click on image.


The extracellular signal regulated kinases, ERK1 and ERK2, play important roles in signaling downstream of hormones and growth factors. In ovarian cumulus cells, the ERKs are essential for mediating key events during folliculogenesis that ultimately facilitate ovulation. Studies in conjunction with the lab of Dr. Mark Roberson are ongoing to explore the role of the ERKs in meiotic prophase I and in events specifically within the oocyte of the adult ovary. For more details click on image.



The NIMA-like kinase, NEK1, is a member of a large family of serine threonine kinases that is unique amongst its family members in that it also encodes tyrosine kinase activity. We became interested in NEK1 when we discovered an important interaction between NEK1 and two SC components: SYCP1 and FKBP6. More recently we have identified a key role for NEK1 in removal of key cohesin components at the end of prophase I in mouse spermatocytes (Holloway et al, 2011). Studies are ongoing to identify the exact molecular mechanisms by which NEK1 participates in these events.



*** NEW PAPER: see our recent publications !!

Welcome Miguel, Steve, Elizabeth and Carolyn !!!

Welcome to Dr. Miguel Brieno Enriquez who arrived from sunny Spain in the dead of winter! Miguel's research career has focused on human oocytes and primordial germ cells. He is working with Kim Holloway to elucidate the role of NEK1 kinase in gametogenesis.
Welcome also to Dr. Steve Gray, who joins us from the Genome Center at the University of Sussex in the UK. Steve joined in June 2014, and will focus his research on studying the role of CNTD1 in mammalian meiosis.

Welcome also to our two new students, Elizabeth Crate and Carolyn "Cal" Milano, both in the field of Genetics, Genomics, and Development, who recently decided to pursue their graduate work in our lab. Elizabeth will be studying the role of Argonaute proteins in meiotic silencing, while Cal will be studying the function of MSH4/MSH5 in meiotic recombiantion in the mouse.


The role of CNTD1 in mammalian meiosis

We are proud to announce our new publication in the Journal of Cell Biology focussing on the role of Cyclin N-Terminal Domain-containing protein-1 (CNTD1) in crossover designation. This was a collaboration with our good friend, Dr. Anne Villeneuve, from Stanford University. We demonstrate that CNTD1 is crucial for paring down excess DSB repair sites during pachynema of prophase I, in conjunction with HEI10. The paper was highlighted by an In Focus report in the same issue of the Journal. See our publications page for further details.


Congratulations to our graduating students !!

Congratulations to Alyssa Cornelius and Michael Wotman who will graduate this May (2014). While we are really sad to see them go, we are comforted by the fact that Alyssa will remain here in Ithaca as a Veterinary student and has, in fact, been accepted into the Veterinary Investigator Program here at the Vet College for the summer. In addition, she will be presenting her research on the role of FancJ in gametogenesis at the 2014 SSR meeting in Michigan. Meanwhile, Michael will be heading to the bright lights of NYC to continue his research.


New Center grant for the Center for Reprogenomics

We are happy to report the success of our recent U54 application for a grant to study the role of small RNAs in mammalian gametogenesis. This Center grant encompasses projects from the Cohen, Grimson, Schimenti, and Paduch labs, and is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development. Funding started in April 2014.