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Regulating the MBT
It has been known for more than 30 years that a defined number of cell divisions in the frog embryo precede a crucial developmental event called the midblastula transition (MBT). Collart et al. (p. 893, published online 1 August) now elucidate a mechanism involved in the control of the MBT. DNA replication initiation factors are titrated out during early cell divisions, which controls the elongation of the cell cycle and the onset of zygotic transcription during the MBT.
The rapid, reductive early divisions of many metazoan embryos are followed by the midblastula transition (MBT), during which the cell cycle elongates and zygotic transcription begins. It has been proposed that the increasing nuclear to cytoplasmic (N/C) ratio is critical for controlling the events of the MBT. We show that four DNA replication factors—Cut5, RecQ4, Treslin, and Drf1—are limiting for replication initiation at increasing N/C ratios in vitro and in vivo in Xenopus laevis. The levels of these factors regulate multiple events of the MBT, including the slowing of the cell cycle, the onset of zygotic transcription, and the developmental activation of the kinase Chk1. This work provides a mechanism for how the N/C ratio controls the MBT and shows that the regulation of replication initiation is fundamental for normal embryogenesis.