The contractile ring in dividing animal cells is formed primarily through the reorganization of existing actin filaments (Cao, L.-G., and Y.-L. Wang. 1990. J. Cell Biol. 110:1089-1096), but it is not clear whether the process involves a random recruitment of diffusible actin filaments from the cytoplasm, or a directional movement of cortically associated filaments toward the equator. We have studied this question by observing the distribution of actin filaments that have been labeled with fluorescent phalloidin and microinjected into dividing normal rat kidney (NRK) cells. The labeled filaments are present primarily in the cytoplasm during prometaphase and early metaphase, but become associated extensively with the cell cortex 10-15 min before the onset of anaphase. This process is manifested both as an increase in cortical fluorescence intensity and as movements of discrete aggregates of actin filaments toward the cortex. The concentration of actin fluorescence in the equatorial region, accompanied by a decrease of fluorescence in polar regions, is detected 2-3 min after the onset of anaphase. By directly tracing the distribution of aggregates of labeled actin filaments, we are able to detect, during anaphase and telophase, movements of cortical actin filaments toward the equator at an average rate of 1.0 micron/min. Our results, combined with previous observations, suggest that the organization of actin filaments during cytokinesis probably involves an association of cytoplasmic filaments with the cortex, a movement of cortical filaments toward the cleavage furrow, and a dissociation of filaments from the equatorial cortex.

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