During the period of oocyte growth, chromatin undergoes global rearrangements at both morphological and molecular levels. An intriguing feature of oogenesis in some mammalian species is the formation of a heterochromatin ring-shaped structure, called the karyosphere or surrounded “nucleolus”, which is associated with the periphery of the nucleolus-like bodies (NLBs). Morphologically similar heterochromatin structures also form around the nucleolus-precursor bodies (NPBs) in zygotes and persist for several first cleavage divisions in blastomeres. Despite recent progress in our understanding the regulation of gene silencing/expression during early mammalian development, as well as the molecular mechanisms that underlie chromatin condensation and heterochromatin structure, the biological significance of the karyosphere and its counterparts in early embryos is still elusive. We pay attention to both the changes of heterochromatin morphology and to the molecular mechanisms that can affect the configuration and functional activity of chromatin. We briefly discuss how DNA methylation, post-translational histone modifications, alternative histone variants, and some chromatin-associated non-histone proteins may be involved in the formation of peculiar heterochromatin structures intimately associated with NLBs and NPBs, the unique nuclear bodies of oocytes and early embryos.
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