During the course of preimplantation development, the cells of the mouse embryo undergo both a major subcellular reorganization (at the time of compaction) and, subsequently, a process of differentiation as the phenotypes of trophectoderm and inner cell mass cell types diverge. We have used antibodies specific for tyrosinated (Kilmartin, J. V., B. Wright, and C. Milstein. 1982. J. Cell Biol. 93:576-582) and acetylated (Piperno, G., and M. T. Fuller. 1985. J. Cell Biol. 101:2085-2094) alpha-tubulin in immunofluorescence studies and found that subsets of microtubules can be distinguished within and between cells during the course of these events. Whereas all microtubules contained tyrosinated alpha-tubulin, acetylated alpha-tubulin was detected only in a subpopulation, located predominantly in the cell cortices. Striking differences developed between the distribution of the two populations during the course of development. Firstly, whereas the microtubule population as a whole tends to redistribute towards the apical domain of cells as they polarize during compaction (Houliston, E., S. J. Pickering, and B. Maro. 1987. J. Cell Biol. 104:1299-1308), the microtubules recognized by the antiacetylated alpha-tubulin antibody became enriched in the basal part of the cell cortex. After asymmetric division of polarized cells to generate two distinct cell types (termed inside and outside cells) we found that, despite the relative abundance of microtubules in outside cells, acetylated microtubules accumulated preferentially in inside cells. Treatment with nocodazole demonstrated that within each cell type acetylated microtubules were the more stable ones; however, the difference in composition of the microtubule network between cell types was not accompanied by a greater stability of the microtubule network in inside cells.

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