Background: Centrosomes are the favored microtubule-organizing framework of eukaryotic cells. Centrosomes contain a pair of centrioles that normally duplicate once during the cell cycle to give rise to two mitotic spindle poles, each containing one old and one new centriole. However, aside from their role as an anchor point for pericentriolar material and as basal bodies of flagella and cilia, the functional attributes of centrioles remain enigmatic.
Results: Here, using RNA interference, we demonstrate that "knockdown" of centrin-2, a protein of centrioles, results in failure of centriole duplication during the cell cycle in HeLa cells. Following inhibition of centrin-2 synthesis, the preexisting pair of centrioles separate, and functional bipolar spindles form with only one centriole at each spindle pole. Centriole dilution results from the ensuing cell division, and daughter cells are "born" with only a single centriole. Remarkably, these unicentriolar daughter cells may complete a second and even third bipolar mitosis in which spindle microtubules converge onto unusually broad spindle poles and in which cell division results in daughter cells containing either one or no centrioles at all. Cells thus denuded of the mature or both centrioles fail to undergo cytokinesis in subsequent cell cycles, give rise to multinucleate products, and finally die.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate a requirement for centrin in centriole duplication and demonstrate that centrioles play a role in organizing spindle pole morphology and in the completion of cytokinesis.