During the first cell cycle of the ascidian egg, two phases of ooplasmic segregation create distinct cytoplasmic domains that are crucial for later development. We recently defined a domain enriched in ER in the vegetal region of Phallusia mammillata eggs. To explore the possible physiological and developmental function of this ER domain, we here investigate its organization and fate by labeling the ER network in vivo with DiIC16(3), and observing its distribution before and after fertilization in the living egg. In unfertilized eggs, the ER-rich vegetal cortex is overlaid by the ER-poor but mitochondria-rich subcortical myoplasm. Fertilization results in striking rearrangements of the ER network. First, ER accumulates at the vegetal-contraction pole as a thick layer between the plasma membrane and the myoplasm. This accompanies the relocation of the myoplasm toward that region during the first phase of ooplasmic segregation. In other parts of the cytoplasm, ER becomes progressively redistributed into ER-rich and ER-poor microdomains. As the sperm aster grows, ER accumulates in its centrosomal area and along its astral rays. During the second phase of ooplasmic segregation, which takes place once meiosis is completed, the concentrated ER domain at the vegetal-contraction pole moves with the sperm aster and the bulk of the myoplasm toward the future posterior side of the embryo. These results show that after fertilization, ER first accumulates in the vegetal area from which repetitive calcium waves are known to originate (Speksnijder, J. E. 1992. Dev. Biol. 153:259-271). This ER domain subsequently colocalizes with the myoplasm to the presumptive primary muscle cell region.

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