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J Cell Biol. 2012 Jun 25;197(7):887-95. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201204019. Epub 2012 Jun 18.

Aster migration determines the length scale of nuclear separation in the Drosophila syncytial embryo.

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Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit and 2 Developmental Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany.


In the early embryo of many species, comparatively small spindles are positioned near the cell center for subsequent cytokinesis. In most insects, however, rapid nuclear divisions occur in the absence of cytokinesis, and nuclei distribute rapidly throughout the large syncytial embryo. Even distribution and anchoring of nuclei at the embryo cortex are crucial for cellularization of the blastoderm embryo. The principles underlying nuclear dispersal in a syncytium are unclear. We established a cell-free system from individual Drosophila melanogaster embryos that supports successive nuclear division cycles with native characteristics. This allowed us to investigate nuclear separation in predefined volumes. Encapsulating nuclei in microchambers revealed that the early cytoplasm is programmed to separate nuclei a distinct distance. Laser microsurgery revealed an important role of microtubule aster migration through cytoplasmic space, which depended on F-actin and cooperated with anaphase spindle elongation. These activities define a characteristic separation length scale that appears to be a conserved property of developing insect embryos.

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