We have used in situ hybridization and cell fractionation methods to follow the distribution of U1 RNA and immunofluorescence microscopy to follow the distribution of snRNP proteins in oocytes, eggs, and embryos of several sea urchin species. U1 RNA and U1-specific snRNP antigens are concentrated in germinal vesicles of oocytes. Both appear to relocate after oocyte maturation because they are found primarily, if not exclusively, in the cytoplasm of mature unfertilized eggs. This cytoplasmic residence is maintained during early cleavage and U1 RNA is first detectable in nuclei of micromeres at the 16-cell stage. Between morula and gastrula stages the steady-state concentrations of both RNA and antigens gradually increase in nuclei and decrease in cytoplasm. Surprisingly, analysis of the distribution of newly synthesized U1 RNA shows that it does not equilibrate with the maternal pool. Instead new transcripts are confined to nuclei, while cytoplasmic U1 RNAs are of maternal origin. This lack of equilibration and the conversion of maternal U1 RNAs from nuclear species in oocytes to cytoplasmic in embryos suggests that these RNPs (or RNAs) are structurally altered when released to the cytoplasm at oocyte maturation.

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