Background: The Aurora/Ipl1p-related kinase AIR-2 is required for mitotic chromosome segregation and cytokinesis in early Caenorhabditis elegans embryos. Previous studies have relied on non-conditional mutations or RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) to inactivate AIR-2. It has therefore not been possible to determine whether AIR-2 functions directly in cytokinesis or if the cleavage defect results indirectly from the failure to segregate DNA. One intriguing hypothesis is that AIR-2 acts to localize the mitotic kinesin-like protein ZEN-4 (also known as CeMKLP1), which later functions in cytokinesis.
Results: Using conditional alleles, we established that AIR-2 is required at metaphase or early anaphase for normal segregation of chromosomes, localization of ZEN-4, and cytokinesis. ZEN-4 is first required late in cytokinesis, and also functions to maintain cell separation through much of the subsequent interphase. DNA segregation defects alone were not sufficient to disrupt cytokinesis in other mutants, suggesting that AIR-2 acts specifically during cytokinesis through ZEN-4. AIR-2 and ZEN-4 shared similar genetic interactions with the formin homology (FH) protein CYK-1, suggesting that AIR-2 and ZEN-4 function in a single pathway, in parallel to a contractile ring pathway that includes CYK-1. Using in vitro co-immunoprecipitation experiments, we found that AIR-2 and ZEN-4 interact directly.
Conclusions: AIR-2 has two functions during mitosis: one in chromosome segregation, and a second, independent function in cytokinesis through ZEN-4. AIR-2 and ZEN-4 may act in parallel to a second pathway that includes CYK-1.