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Development. 1996 Apr;122(4):1281-9.

Confocal microscopy analysis of living Xenopus eggs and the mechanism of cortical rotation.

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Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of California at Berkeley, 94720, USA.


The dorsoventral body axis in amphibian embryos is established by a rotation of the outer cortex relative to the inner cytoplasmic core. This cortical rotation depends on microtubules and is correlated with a parallel array of microtubules just inside the vegetal cortex. Since the parallel array moves with the inner cytoplasm and most of its microtubules are oriented with their plus ends facing the direction of cortical movement, it has been suggested that plus end-directed motor molecules attached to the cortex drive the rotation by moving along microtubules of the parallel array. Using an inverted confocal microscope to examine living eggs, however, we found that rotation movements precede the formation of a detectable parallel array at the vegetal pole, that the parallel array consists of multiple layers of microtubules at depths ranging from 4 to 8 microns inside the plasma membrane and that the velocity of rotation is immobilized eggs increases with depth in this region. These findings suggest that (1) early cytoplasmic movements are due to something other than the fully formed parallel array and (2) the motor molecules responsible for the bulk of the rotation movement are not restricted to a monolayer at the subcortical interface but may be distributed throughout the parallel array, perhaps causing microtubules to slide along other microtubules by a mechanism similar to that seen in cilia and eukaryotic flagella.

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