We have used hydrostatic pressure to study the structural organization of actin in the sea urchin egg cortex and the role of cortical actin in early development. Pressurization of Arbacia punctulata eggs to 6,000 psi at the first cleavage division caused the regression of the cleavage furrow and the disappearance of actin filament bundles from the microvilli. Within 30 s to 1 min of decompression these bundles reformed and furrowing resumed. Pressurization of dividing eggs to 7,500 psi caused both the regression of the cleavage furrow and the complete loss of microvilli from the egg surface. Following release from this higher pressure, the eggs underwent extensive, uncoordinated surface contractions, but failed to cleave. The eggs gradually regained their spherical shape and cleaved directly into four cells at the second cleavage division. Microvilli reformed on the egg surface over a period of time corresponding to that required for the recovery of normal egg shape and stability. During the initial stages of their regrowth the microvilli contained a network of actin filaments that began to transform into bundles when the microvilli had reached approximately 2/3 of their final length. These results demonstrate that moderate levels of hydrostatic pressure cause the reversible disruption of cortical actin organization, and suggest that this network of actin stabilizes the egg surface and participates in the formation of the contractile ring during cytokinesis. The results also demonstrate that actin filament bundles are not required for the regrowth of microvilli after their removal by pressurization. Preliminary experiments demonstrate that F-actin is not depolymerized in vitro by pressures up to 10,000 psi and suggest that pressure may act indirectly in vivo, either by changing the intracellular ionic environment or by altering the interaction of actin binding proteins with actin.

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