The three chromosomal species of the Mus terricolor complex possess 2n = 40 chromosomes. We show that their karyotypes differ in stable heterochromatin variations fixed in homozygous condition as prominent short arms in autosomes 1, 3 and 6. The three chromosomal species exhibit a high incidence of polymorphisms for Robertsonian fusions and pericentric inversions. Breeding experiments and histological analysis of testis show that heterozygosity for pericentric inversions and Robertsonian fusions had no effect on fertility. Meiotic analysis shows normal overall progression of meiosis in the heterozygotes, which is consistent with their normal gametogenesis. Nevertheless, both the inversion and fusion heterozygotes had undergone some alterations in the regular process of homologous synapsis, and it appeared that certain features of the meiotic system circumvented the potential negative effects of these polymorphic chromosomal rearrangements. The results indicate that the attributes of the meiotic system in a given organism could modulate the potential of a chromosomal rearrangement as reproductive barrier. The meiotic modulation hypothesis offers an explanation for the contradictory effects of the similar kinds of chromosomal mutations reported in different species.
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