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Development. 1999 Jun;126(14):3101-17.

Phases of cytoplasmic and cortical reorganizations of the ascidian zygote between fertilization and first division.

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Bio Mar Cell, Unité de Biologie du Développement - UMR 643, CNRS/UPMC, Station Zoologique, Villefranche-sur-mer, France.


Many eggs undergo reorganizations that localize determinants specifying the developmental axes and the differentiation of various cell types. In ascidians, fertilization triggers spectacular reorganizations that result in the formation and localization of distinct cytoplasmic domains that are inherited by early blastomeres that develop autonomously. By applying various imaging techniques to the transparent eggs of Phallusia mammillata, we now define 9 events and phases in the reorganization of the surface, cortex and the cytoplasm between fertilization and first cleavage. We show that two of the domains that preexist in the egg (the ER-rich cortical domain and the mitochondria-rich subcortical myoplasm) are localized successively by a microfilament-driven cortical contraction, a microtubule-driven migration and rotation of the sperm aster with respect to the cortex, and finally, a novel microfilament-dependant relaxation of the vegetal cortex. The phases of reorganization we have observed can best be explained in terms of cell cycle-regulated phases of coupling, uncoupling and recoupling of the motions of cortical and subcortical layers (ER-rich cortical domain and mitochondria-rich domain) with respect to the surface of the zygote. At the end of the meiotic cell cycle we can distinguish up to 5 cortical and cytoplasmic domains (including two novel ones; the vegetal body and a yolk-rich domain) layered against the vegetal cortex. We have also analyzed how the myoplasm is partitioned into distinct blastomeres at the 32-cell stage and the effects on development of the ablation of precisely located small fragments. On the basis of our observations and of the ablation/ transplantation experiments done in the zygotes of Phallusia and several other ascidians, we suggest that the determinants for unequal cleavage, gastrulation and for the differentiation of muscle and endoderm cells may reside in 4 distinct cortical and cytoplasmic domains localized in the egg between fertilization and cleavage.

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