The spatial and temporal dynamics of diploid chromosome organization, microtubule arrangement, and the state of the nuclear envelope have been analyzed in syncytial blastoderm embryos of Drosophila melanogaster during the transition from prophase to metaphase, by three-dimensional optical sectioning microscopy. Time-lapse, three-dimensional data recorded in living embryos revealed that congression of chromosomes (the process whereby chromosomes move to form the metaphase plate) at prometaphase occurs as a wave, starting at the top of the nucleus near the embryo surface and proceeding through the nucleus to the bottom. The time-lapse analysis was augmented by a high-resolution analysis of fixed embryos where it was possible to unambiguously trace the three-dimensional paths of individual chromosomes. In prophase, the centromeres were found to be clustered at the top of the nucleus while the telomeres were situated at the bottom of the nucleus or towards the embryo interior. This polarized centromere-telomere orientation, perpendicular to the embryo surface, was preserved during the process of prometaphase chromosome congression. Correspondingly, breakdown of the nuclear envelope started at the top of the nucleus with the mitotic spindle being formed at the positions of the partial breakdown of the nuclear envelope. Our observation provide an example in which nuclear structures are spatially organized and their functions are locally and coordinately controlled in three dimensions.

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