Xenopus eggs are laid arrested at second metaphase of meiosis lacking a functional centrosome. Upon fertilization, the sperm provides the active centrosome that is required for cleavage to occur. The injection of purified centrosomes mimics fertilization and leads to tadpole formation (parthenogenesis). In this work we show that the parthenogenetic activity of centrosomes is inactivated by urea concentrations higher than 2 M. The loss of activity is correlated with a progressive destruction of the centriolar cylinder and extraction of proteins. This shows that centrosomes are relatively sensitive to urea since complete protein unfolding and solubilization of proteins normally occurs at urea concentrations as high as 8-10 M. When present, the parthenogenetic activity is always associated with a pelletable fraction showing that it cannot be solubilized by urea. The parthenogenetic activity is progressively inactivated by salt concentrations higher than 2 M (NaCl or KCl). However, only a few proteins are extracted by these treatments and the centrosome ultrastructure is not affected. This shows that both parthenogenetic activity and centrosomal structure are resistant to relatively high ionic strength. Indeed, most protein structures held by electrostatic forces are dissociated by 2 M salt. The loss of parthenogenetic activity produced at higher salt concentrations, while the structure of the centrosome is unaffected, is an apparent paradox. We interpret this result as meaning that the native state of centrosomes is held together by forces that favor functional denaturation by high ionic strength. The respective effects of urea and salts on centrosomal structure and activity suggest that the centrosome is mainly held together by hydrogen and hydrophobic bonds. The in vitro microtubule nucleating activity of centrosomes can be inactivated at salt or urea concentrations that do not affect the parthenogenetic activity. Since egg cleavage requires the formation of microtubule asters, we conclude that the extracted or denatured microtubule nucleating activity of centrosomes can be complemented by components present in the egg cytoplasm. Both parthenogenetic and microtubule nucleating activities are abolished by protease treatments but resist nuclease action. Since we find no RNA in centrosomes treated by RNase, they probably do not contain a protected RNA. Taken together, these results are consistent with the idea that the whole or part of the centrosome structure acts as a seed to start the centrosome duplication cycle in Xenopus eggs.

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