Centrioles organize microtubules in two ways: either microtubules elongate from the centriole cylinder itself, forming a flagellum or a cilium ("template elongation"), or pericentriolar material assembles and nucleates a microtubule aster ("astral nucleation"). During spermatogenesis in most species, a motile flagellum elongates from one of the sperm centrioles, whereas after fertilization a large aster of microtubules forms around the sperm centrioles in the egg cytoplasm. Using Xenopus egg extracts we have developed an in vitro system to study this change in microtubule-organizing activity. An aster of microtubules forms around the centrioles of permeabilized frog sperm in egg extracts, but not in pure tubulin. However, when the sperm heads are incubated in the egg extract in the presence of nocodazole, they are able to nucleate a microtubule aster after isolation and incubation with pure calf brain tubulin. This provides a two-step assay that distinguishes between centrosome assembly and subsequent microtubule nucleation. We have studied several centrosomal antigens during centrosome assembly. The CTR2611 antigen is present in the sperm head in the peri-centriolar region. gamma-tubulin and certain phosphorylated epitopes appear in the centrosome only after incubation in the egg extract. gamma-tubulin is recruited from the egg extract and associated with electron-dense patches dispersed in a wide area around the centrioles. Immunodepletion of gamma-tubulin and associated molecules from the egg extract before sperm head incubation prevents the change in microtubule-organizing activity of the sperm heads. This suggests that gamma-tubulin and/or associated molecules play a key role in centrosome formation and activity.

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