MDCKII cells differentiate into a simple columnar epithelium when grown on a permeable support; the monolayer is polarized for transport and secretion. Individual cells within the monolayer continue to divide at a low rate without disturbing the function of the epithelium as a barrier to solutes. This presents an interesting model for the study of mitosis in a differentiated epithelium which we have investigated by confocal immunofluorescence microscopy. We monitored the distribution of microtubules, centrioles, nucleus, tight junctions, and plasma membrane proteins that are specifically targeted to the apical and basolateral domains. The stable interphase microtubule cytoskeleton was rapidly disassembled at prophase onset and reassembled at cytokinesis. As the interphase microtubules disassembled at prophase, the centrioles moved from their interphase position at the apical membrane to the nucleus and acquired the ability to organize microtubule asters. Orientation of the spindle parallel to the plane of the monolayer occurred between late prophase and metaphase and persisted through cytokinesis. The cleavage furrow formed asymmetrically perpendicular to the plane of the monolayer initiating at the basolateral side and proceeding to the apical domain. The interphase microtubule network reformed after the centrioles migrated from the spindle poles to resume their interphase apical position. Tight junctions (ZO-1), which separate the apical from the basolateral domains, remained assembled throughout all phases of mitosis. E-cadherin and a 58-kD antigen maintained their basolateral plasma membrane distributions, and a 114-kD antigen remained polarized to the apical domain. These proteins were useful for monitoring the changes in shape of the mitotic cells relative to neighboring cells, especially during telophase when the cell shape changes dramatically. We discuss the changes in centriole position during the cell cycle, mechanisms of spindle orientation, and how the maintenance of polarized plasma membrane domains through mitosis may facilitate the rapid reformation of the polarized interphase cytoplasm.

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