Chromosomes are known to enhance spindle microtubule assembly in grasshopper spermatocytes, which suggested to us that chromosomes might play an essential role in the initiation of spindle formation. Chromosomes might, for example, activate other spindle components such as centrosomes and tubulin subunits upon the breakdown of the nuclear envelope. We tested this possibility in living grasshopper spermatocytes. We ruptured the nuclear envelope during prophase, which prematurely exposed the centrosomes to chromosomes and nuclear sap. Spindle assembly was promptly initiated. In contrast, assembly of the spindle was completely inhibited if the nucleus was mechanically removed from a late prophase cell. Other experiments showed that the trigger for spindle assembly is associated with the chromosomes; other constituents of the nucleus cannot initiate spindle assembly in the absence of the chromosomes. The initiation of spindle assembly required centrosomes as well as chromosomes. Extracting centrosomes from late prophase cells completely inhibited spindle assembly after dissolution of the nuclear envelope. We conclude that the normal formation of a bipolar spindle in grasshopper spermatocytes is regulated by chromosomes. A possible explanation is an activator, perhaps a chromosomal protein (Yeo, J.-P., F. Alderuccio, and B.-H. Toh. 1994a. Nature (Lond.). 367: 288-291), that promotes and stabilizes the assembly of astral microtubules and thus promotes assembly of the spindle.

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