An argon ion laser microbeam (488 and 514 nm) was used to selectively irradiate one of the two centriolar regions of rat kangaroo Potorous tridactylis (PtK2) prophase cells in vitro. The cells were sensitized to the laser radiation by treatment with acridine orange (0.1-0.2 mug/ml). Ultrastructural examination of the irradiated centriolar regions demonstrated that the primary site of damage was the pericentriolar material. This result suggests that nucleic acid is present in the pericentriolar material. Behavioral and ultrastructural analysis demonstrated that cells with one damaged pericentriolar zone could undergo (a) nuclear membrane breakdown, (b) chromosome condensation, (c) metaphase plate formation, and (d) cytokinesis. However, the chromosomes neither separated nor exhibited any anaphase movements. Detailed ultrastructural analysis revealed the presence of kinetochore microtubules on both sides of chromosome mass and a lack of microtubules in the cytokinesis constriction. These results indicate that the pericentriolar material is important in spindle orgainization and essential for the formation of the interpolar microtubules.

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