The establishment of cell division axes was examined in the early embryonic divisions of Caenorhabditis elegans. It has been shown previously that there are two different patterns of cleavage during early embryogenesis. In one set of cells, which undergo predominantly determinative divisions, the division axes are established successively in the same orientation, while division axes in the other set, which divide mainly proliferatively, have an orthogonal pattern of division. We have investigated the establishment of these axes by following the movement of the centrosomes. Centrosome separation follows a reproducible pattern in all cells, and this pattern by itself results in an orthogonal pattern of cleavage. In those cells that divide on the same axis, there is an additional directed rotation of pairs of centrosomes together with the nucleus through well-defined angles. Intact microtubules are required for rotation; rotation is prevented by inhibitors of polymerization and depolymerization of microtubules. We have examined the distribution of microtubules in fixed embryos during rotation. From these and other data we infer that microtubules running from the centrosome to the cortex have a central role in aligning the centrosome-nuclear complex.

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