Cytoplasmic Volume Modulates Spindle Size During Embryogenesis

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Science  15 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6160, pp. 856-860
DOI: 10.1126/science.1243147

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Scaling Spindle Size

The difficulty of modulating cell size in vivo has made it hard to test hypotheses for organelle size scaling during development. To this end, Hazel et al. (p. 853) and Good et al. (p. 856) developed microfluidic systems in which cytoplasmic extracts are encapsulated in compartments with definable size. The size of mitotic spindles assembled within cell-free extracts scaled with the volume of the compartment within which the spindle assembled. The findings suggest that the diminished availability of cytoplasmic components, notably tubulin, concomitant with cell size reduction, prescribes a smaller spindle size.


Rapid and reductive cell divisions during embryogenesis require that intracellular structures adapt to a wide range of cell sizes. The mitotic spindle presents a central example of this flexibility, scaling with the dimensions of the cell to mediate accurate chromosome segregation. To determine whether spindle size regulation is achieved through a developmental program or is intrinsically specified by cell size or shape, we developed a system to encapsulate cytoplasm from Xenopus eggs and embryos inside cell-like compartments of defined sizes. Spindle size was observed to shrink with decreasing compartment size, similar to what occurs during early embryogenesis, and this scaling trend depended on compartment volume rather than shape. Thus, the amount of cytoplasmic material provides a mechanism for regulating the size of intracellular structures.

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