Errors in chromosome segregation in oocytes and early embryos lead to embryo aneuploidy, which contributes to early pregnancy loss. At the heart of chromosome segregation is the spindle, a dynamic biomechanical machine fashioned from microtubules, which is tasked with gathering and sorting chromosomes and dispatching them to the daughter cells at the time of cell division. Understanding the causes of segregation error in the oocyte and early embryo will undoubtedly hinge on a thorough understanding of the mechanism of spindle assembly and function in these highly specialized cellular environments. The recent advent of live imaging approaches to observe chromosome segregation in real-time in oocytes and embryos, paired with gene-silencing techniques and specific inhibition for assessing the function of a protein of interest, has led to a substantial advance in our understanding of chromosome segregation in early mammalian development. These studies have uncovered numerous mechanistic differences between oocytes, embryos, and traditional model systems. In addition, a flurry of recent studies using naturally aged mice as the model for human aging have begun to shed light on the increased levels of aneuploidy seen in embryos from older mothers. Here we review these recent developments and consider what has been learned about the causes of chromosome missegregation in early development.
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Vol. 89 • No. 3