Kinematics of gray crescent formation in Xenopus eggs: the displacement of subcortical cytoplasm relative to the egg surface

Dev Biol. 1986 Feb;113(2):484-500. doi: 10.1016/0012-1606(86)90184-3.


Specification of the amphibian dorso-ventral axis takes place in the period between fertilization and first cleavage when the gray crescent forms. In the course of gray crescent formation, the egg reorganizes its periphery by a movement for which two descriptions have been given. According to the "rotation hypothesis," which was originated and supported for Rana eggs, the entire egg cortex rotates by an arc of 30 degrees relative to the stationary subcortical cytoplasm, leaving the crescent as a zone of altered coloration. The "contraction hypothesis" on the other hand, which was proposed for Xenopus and Rana eggs, asserts that there is a cortical contraction focused at the sperm entry point that leads to stretching of the opposite equatorial zone at which the crescent appears. We have reinvestigated the case of Xenopus eggs by imprinting one kind of fluorescent dye pattern (Nile blue) onto the subcortical cytoplasm and another kind (fluorescein-lectin) onto the egg surface. When the egg surface is held fixed by embedding the egg in gelatin, two major movements of the subcortical cytoplasm are observable. First, starting at time 0.3 (30% of the time between fertilization and first cleavage), the animal hemisphere subcortical cytoplasm converges toward a point, while the vegetal hemisphere is quiescent. This convergence continues with decreasing strength until approximately 0.8 of the first cell cycle. Second, at 0.45, an overall rotation of the animal and vegetal subcortical cytoplasm commences, superimposed on the animal hemisphere convergence. By 0.8-0.9 the rotation is complete, having accomplished a 30 degrees displacement of the subcortical cytoplasm relative to the surface. This rotation reliably locates the future dorsal midline of the embryo at the meridian on which the displacement of the subcortical cytoplasm is greatest in a vegetal direction. In normal unembedded eggs, when the egg surface is free to move, it rotates 30 degrees relative to the subcortical cytoplasm, which remains stationary in a position of gravitational equilibrium. Although both a convergence and rotation occur in the Xenopus egg, we give evidence that the rotation, not the convergence (perhaps equated with contraction), specifies the embryo's prospective axis. Even though the Xenopus egg does not form a classical gray crescent, due to its particular pigment distribution, the reorganization process which specifies the future embryonic axis resembles that of the Rana egg.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Compartmentation
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cytoplasm / physiology
  • Fertilization*
  • Movement
  • Ovum / physiology
  • Ovum / ultrastructure*
  • Xenopus laevis / embryology*
  • Zygote / physiology*