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University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine researchers find protein that plays a key role

Findings show that this protein plays a key role in reproductive health

Athens, Ga. – Researchers now working at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine have found that a key protein-a-thalassemia/mental retardation X-linked protein, known as ATRX-plays a pivotal role in the early stages of embryonic development. Their finding puts researchers a step closer toward identifying ways to determine whether a woman’s eggs may be predisposed to aneuploidy, an abnormal number of chromosomes that is the most common cause of pregnancy loss and congenital birth defects, such as Down syndrome.

In their study, Drs. Rabindranath De La Fuente, Claudia Baumann and Maria M. Viveiros, found that ATRX plays a critical role in heterochromatin formation and the maintenance of chromosome stability during meiotic division. Meiosis is a unique cell division process that occurs exclusively in eggs and sperm prior to fertilization. Their study, “Loss of Maternal ATRX Results in Centromere Instability and Aneuploidy in the Mammalian Oocyte and Pre-Implantation Embryo,” was published on Sept. 23 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics (

“This work is very important in our understanding of birth defects and in developing strategies for early detection,” said Sheila W. Allen, dean of the college. “We are pleased that Drs. Viveiros and De La Fuente have joined our faculty. They will enhance our ability to collaborate on future investigations in reproductive biology.”

The study was supported by Award Number R01HD042740 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

Drs. De La Fuente, Baumann and Viveiros recently joined the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Pennsylvania, where the research was conducted.

The UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, founded in 1946, is dedicated to training future veterinarians, to conducting research related to animal diseases and to providing veterinary services for animals and their owners. Research efforts are aimed at enhancing the quality of life for animals and people, improving the productivity of poultry and livestock, and preserving a healthy interface between wildlife and people in the environment they share. The college enrolls 102 students each fall out of more than 550 who apply. For more information, see

The current UGA College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital, built in 1979, serves more than 18,000 patients per year in one of the smallest teaching hospitals in the United States. The college is currently working to raise $15 million toward building a new Veterinary Medical Learning Center, which will include a new teaching hospital as well as classrooms and laboratories that will allow for the education of more veterinarians. The goal is to increase enrollment to 150 when the Veterinary Medical Learning Center is built. For more information, see