We have used Xenopus egg extracts to study spindle morphogenesis in a cell-free system and have identified two pathways of spindle assembly in vitro using methods of fluorescent analogue cytochemistry. When demembranated sperm nuclei are added to egg extracts arrested in a mitotic state, individual nuclei direct the assembly of polarized microtubule arrays, which we term half-spindles; half-spindles then fuse pairwise to form bipolar spindles. In contrast, when sperm nuclei are added to extracts that are induced to enter interphase and arrested in the following mitosis, a single sperm nucleus can direct the assembly of a complete spindle. We find that microtubule arrays in vitro are strongly biased towards chromatin, but this does not depend on specific kinetochore-microtubule interactions. Indeed, although we have identified morphological and probably functional kinetochores in spindles assembled in vitro, kinetochores appear not to play an obligate role in the establishment of stable, bipolar microtubule arrays in either assembly pathway. Features of the two pathways suggest that spindle assembly involves a hierarchy of selective microtubule stabilization, involving both chromatin-microtubule interactions and antiparallel microtubule-microtubule interactions, and that fundamental molecular interactions are probably the same in both pathways. This in vitro reconstitution system should be useful for identifying the molecules regulating the generation of asymmetric microtubule arrays and for understanding spindle morphogenesis in general.

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