Meiosis I separates homologous chromosomes, producing two haploid cells (23 chromosomes, N in humans), so meiosis I is referred to as a reductional division. A regular diploid human cell contains 46 chromosomes and is considered 2N because it contains 23 pairs of homologous chromosomes. However, after meiosis I, although the cell contains 46 chromatids it is only considered as being N, with 23 chromosomes, because later in anaphase I the sister chromatids will remain together as the spindle pulls the pair toward the pole of the new cell. In meiosis II, an equational division similar to mitosis will occur whereby the sister chromatids are finally split, creating a total of 4 haploid cells (23 chromosomes, N) per daughter cell from the first division.
Homologous chromosomes pair (or synapse) and crossing over (or recombination) occurs - a step unique to meiosis. The paired and replicated chromosomes are called bivalents or tetrads, which have two chromosomes and four chromatids, with one chromosome coming from each parent. At this stage, non-sister chromatids may cross-over at points called chiasmata (plural; singular chiasma).
The first stage of prophase I is the leptotene stage, also known as leptonema, from Greek words meaning "thin threads". During this stage, individual chromosomes begin to condense into long strands within the nucleus. However the two sister chromatids are still so tightly bound that they are indistinguishable from one another.
The zygotene stage, also known as zygonema, from Greek words meaning "paired threads", occurs as the chromosomes approximately line up with each other into homologous chromosomes. This is called the bouquet stage because of the way the telomeres cluster at one end of the nucleus.
The pachytene stage, also known as pachynema, from Greek words meaning "thick threads", contains the following chromosomal crossover. Nonsister chromatids of homologous chromosomes randomly exchange segments of genetic information over regions of homology. (Sex chromosomes, however, are not wholly identical, and only exchange information over a small region of homology.) Exchange takes place at sites where recombination nodules (the aforementioned chiasmata) have formed. The exchange of information between the non-sister chromatids results in a recombination of information; each chromosome has the complete set of information it had before, and there are no gaps formed as a result of the process. Because the chromosomes cannot be distinguished in the synaptonemal complex, the actual act of crossing over is not perceivable through the microscope.
During the diplotene stage, also known as diplonema, from Greek words meaning "two threads", the synaptonemal complex degrades and homologous chromosomes separate from one another a little. The chromosomes themselves uncoil a bit, allowing some transcription of DNA. However, the homologous chromosomes of each bivalent remain tightly bound at chiasmata, the regions where crossing-over occurred. The chiasmata remain on the chromosomes until they are severed in Anaphase I.
In human fetal oogenesis all developing oocytes develop to this stage and stop before birth. This suspended state is referred to as the dictyotene stage and remains so until puberty. In males, only spermatogonia(Spermatogenesis) exist until meiosis begins at puberty.
Chromosomes condense further during the diakinesis stage, from Greek words meaning "moving through". This is the first point in meiosis where the four parts of the tetrads are actually visible. Sites of crossing over entangle together, effectively overlapping, making chiasmata clearly visible. Other than this observation, the rest of the stage closely resembles prometaphase of mitosis; the nucleoli disappear, the nuclear membrane disintegrates into vesicles, and the meiotic spindle begins to form.
During these stages, two centrosomes, containing a pair of centrioles in animal cells, migrate to the two poles of the cell. These centrosomes, which were duplicated during S-phase, function as microtubule organizing centers nucleating microtubules, which are essentially cellular ropes and poles. The microtubules invade the nuclear region after the nuclear envelope disintegrates, attaching to the chromosomes at the kinetochore. The kinetochore functions as a motor, pulling the chromosome along the attached microtubule toward the originating centriole, like a train on a track. There are four kinetochores on each tetrad, but the pair of kinetochores on each sister chromatid fuses and functions as a unit during meiosis I.
Microtubules that attach to the kinetochores are known as kinetochore microtubules. Other microtubules will interact with microtubules from the opposite centriole: these are called nonkinetochore microtubules or polar microtubules. A third type of microtubules, the aster microtubules, radiates from the centrosome into the cytoplasm or contacts components of the membrane skeleton.
Homologous pairs move together along the metaphase plate: As kinetochore microtubules from both centrioles attach to their respective kinetochores, the homologous chromosomes align along an equatorial plane that bisects the spindle, due to continuous counterbalancing forces exerted on the bivalents by the microtubules emanating from the two kinetochores of homologous chromosomes. The physical basis of the independent assortment of chromosomes is the random orientation of each bivalent along the metaphase plate, with respect to the orientation of the other bivalents along the same equatorial line.
Kinetochore microtubules shorten, severing the recombination nodules and pulling homologous chromosomes apart. Since each chromosome has only one functional unit of a pair of kinetochores, whole chromosomes are pulled toward opposing poles, forming two haploid sets. Each chromosome still contains a pair of sister chromatids. Nonkinetochore microtubules lengthen, pushing the centrioles farther apart. The cell elongates in preparation for division down the center.
The last meiotic division effectively ends when the chromosomes arrive at the poles. Each daughter cell now has half the number of chromosomes but each chromosome consists of a pair of chromatids. The microtubules that make up the spindle network disappear, and a new nuclear membrane surrounds each haploid set. The chromosomes uncoil back into chromatin. Cytokinesis, the pinching of the cell membrane in animal cells or the formation of the cell wall in plant cells, occurs, completing the creation of two daughter cells. Sister chromatids remain attached during telophase I.
Cells may enter a period of rest known as interkinesis or interphase II. No DNA replication occurs during this stage.
Meiosis II is the second part of the meiotic process. Much of the process is similar to mitosis. The end result is production of four haploid cells (23 chromosomes, 1N in humans) from the two haploid cells (23 chromosomes, 1N * each of the chromosomes consisting of two sister chromatids) produced in meiosis I. The four main steps of Meiosis II are: Prophase II, Metaphase II, Anaphase II, and Telophase II.
Prophase II takes an inversely proportional time compared to telophase I. In this prophase we see the disappearance of the nucleoli and the nuclear envelope again as well as the shortening and thickening of the chromatids. Centrioles move to the polar regions and arrange spindle fibers for the second meiotic division.
In metaphase II, the centromeres contain two kinetochores that attach to spindle fibers from the centrosomes (centrioles) at each pole. The new equatorial metaphase plate is rotated by 90 degrees when compared to meiosis I, perpendicular to the previous plate.
This is followed by anaphase II, where the centromeres are cleaved, allowing microtubules attached to the kinetochores to pull the sister chromatids apart. The sister chromatids by convention are now called sister chromosomes as they move toward opposing poles.
The process ends with telophase II, which is similar to telophase I, and is marked by uncoiling and lengthening of the chromosomes and the disappearance of the spindle. Nuclear envelopes reform and cleavage or cell wall formation eventually produces a total of four daughter cells, each with a haploid set of chromosomes. Meiosis is now complete and ends up with four new daughter cells.