Drosophila embryogenesis is initiated by a series of syncytial mitotic divisions. The first nine of these divisions are internal, and are accompanied by two temporally distinct nuclear movements that lead to the formation of a syncytial blastoderm with a uniform monolayer of cortical nuclei. The first of these movements, which we term axial expansion, occurs during division cycles 4-6 and distributes nuclei in a hollow ellipsoid underlying the cortex. This is followed by cortical migration, during cycles 7-10, which places the nuclei in a uniform monolayer at the cortex. Here we report that these two movements differ in their geometry, velocity, cell-cycle dependence, and protein synthesis requirement. We therefore conclude that axial expansion and cortical migration are mechanistically distinct, amplifying a similar conclusion based on pharmacological data (Zalokar and Erk, 1976). We have examined microtubule organization during cortical migration and find that a network of interdigitating microtubules connects the migrating nuclei. These anti-parallel microtubule arrays are observed between migrating nuclei and yolk nuclei located deeper in the embryo. These arrays are present during nuclear movement but break down when the nuclei are not moving. We propose that cortical migration is driven by microtubule-dependent forces that repel adjacent nuclei, leading to an expansion of the nuclear ellipsoid established by axial expansion.

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