UCSD biologists discover that machinery for cell division plays dual role in partitioning developing embryo

Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered that the embryonic development of the first axis of an animal-which defines its inner and outer layers and is initiated by the entry of sperm into an egg-is intimately linked to a protein complex long known to be instrumental in cell division.

Their finding, detailed in a paper featured on the cover of the February issue of the journal Developmental Cell, provides a more complete molecular picture for developmental biologists of how the one-celled embryo divides into an organism's outer layers-such as its skin and nervous system-and its inner layers, such as its muscle, gut and reproductive organs.

"What we discovered are some of essential parts of the machinery that a cell uses to set up differences in the embryo so that different types of tissue eventually develop," says Chad A. Rappleye, a graduate student in UCSD's Division of Biology and the first author of the report. "People have long known that the sperm's entry into the egg prompts these initial differences. But how the cell sets up these molecular differences has been largely unknown. We found that this protein complex, long associated with a very different function, is essential for positioning the different molecular markers within the cell."

This protein complex-called Anaphase-Promoting Complex, or APC-appears to play two completely different roles in the cell. APC has long been known among biologists, as its name suggests, for its role in preparing the cell for division by allowing it progress through the metaphase to anaphase transition in the cell cycle. But it now appears to also play a central role in embryonic development.

"Our discovery helps to potentially explain why APC is such a huge complex, because it has multiple roles," says Raffi V. Aroian, an assistant professor of biology at UCSD who headed the investigation. "What evolution has done is taken a complex process for progres

Contact: Kim McDonald
University of California - San Diego

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