To study vimentin filament organization in vivo we injected Xenopus oocytes, which have no significant vimentin system of their own, with in vitro-synthesized RNAs encoding Xenopus vimentins. Exogenous vimentins were localized primarily to the cytoplasmic surface of the nucleus and to the subplasma membrane "cortex." In the cortex of the animal hemisphere, wild-type vimentin forms punctate structures and short filaments. In contrast, long anastomosing vimentin filaments are formed in the vegetal hemisphere cortex. This asymmetry in the organization of exogenous vimentin is similar to that of the endogenous keratin system (Klymkowsky, M. W., L. A. Maynell, and A. G. Polson. 1987. Development (Camb.). 100:543-557), which suggests that the same cellular factors are responsible for both. Before germinal vesicle breakdown, in the initial stage of oocyte maturation, large vimentin and keratin filament bundles appear in the animal hemisphere. As maturation proceeds, keratin filaments fragment into soluble oligomers (Klymkowsky, M. W., L. A. Maynell, and C. Nislow. 1991. J. Cell Biol. 114:787-797), while vimentin filaments remain intact and vimentin is hyperphosphorylated. To examine the role of MPF kinase in the M-phase reorganization of vimentin we deleted the conserved proline of vimentin's single MPF-kinase site; this mutation had no apparent effect on the prophase or M-phase behavior of vimentin. In contrast, deletion of amino acids 19-68 or 18-61 of the NH2-terminal "head" domain produced proteins that formed extended filaments in the animal hemisphere of the prophase oocyte. We suggest that the animal hemisphere cortex of the prophase oocyte contains a factor that actively suppresses the formation of extended vimentin filaments through a direct interaction with vimentin's head domain. During maturation this "suppressor of extended filaments" appears to be inactivated, leading to the formation of an extended vimentin filament system.

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