The current hypothesis of cytokinesis suggests that contractile forces in the cleavage furrow are generated by a circumferential band of actin filaments. However, relatively little is known about the global organization of actin filaments in dividing cells. To approach this problem we have used fluorescence-detected linear dichroism (FDLD) microscopy to measure filament orientation, and digital optical sectioning microscopy to perform three-dimensional reconstructions of dividing NRK cells stained with rhodamine-phalloidin. During metaphase, actin filaments in the equatorial region show a slight orientation along the spindle axis, while those in adjacent regions appear to be randomly distributed. Upon anaphase onset and through cytokinesis, the filaments become oriented along the equator in the furrow region, and along the spindle axis in adjacent regions. The degree of orientation appears to be dependent on cell-cell and cell-substrate adhesions. By performing digital optical sectioning microscopy on a highly spread NRK subclone, we show that actin filaments organize as a largely isotropic cortical meshwork in metaphase cells and convert into an anisotropic network shortly after anaphase onset, becoming more organized as cytokinesis proceeds. The conversion is most dramatic on the adhering ventral surface which shows little or no cleavage activity, and results in the formation of large bundles along the equator. On the dorsal surface, where cleavage occurs actively, actin filaments remain isotropic, showing only subtle alignment late in cytokinesis. In addition, stereo imaging has led to the discovery of a novel set of filaments that are associated with the cortex and traverse through the cytoplasm. Together, these studies provide important insights into the process of actin remodeling during cell division and point to possible additional mechanisms for force generation.

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