Fertilization of clam oocytes initiates a series of cell divisions, of which the first three--meiosis I, meiosis II, and the first mitotic division--are highly synchronous. After fertilization, protein synthesis is required for the successful completion of every division except meiosis I. When protein synthesis is inhibited, entry into meiosis I and the maintenance of M phase for the normal duration of meiosis occur normally, but the chromosomes fail to interact correctly with the spindle in meiosis II metaphase. By contrast, inhibition of protein synthesis immediately after completion of meiosis or mitosis stops cells entering the next mitosis. We describe the behavior of cyclins A and B in relation to these "points of no return." The cyclins are synthesized continuously and are rapidly destroyed shortly before the metaphase-anaphase transition of the mitotic cell cycles, with cyclin A being degraded in advance of cyclin B. Cyclin destruction normally occurs during a 5-min window in mitosis, but in the monopolar mitosis that occurs after parthenogenetic activation of clam oocytes, or when colchicine is added to fertilized eggs about to enter first mitosis, the destruction of cyclin B is strongly delayed, whereas proteolysis of cyclin A is maintained in an activated state for the duration of metaphase arrest. Under either of these abnormal conditions, inhibition of protein synthesis causes a premature return to interphase that correlates with the time when cyclin B disappears.

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