We have used frog egg extracts that assemble mitotic spindles to identify the event that triggers sister chromatid separation. Adding a nondegradable form of cyclin B prevents maturation-promoting factor (MPF) inactivation but does not block sister chromatid separation, showing that MPF inactivation is not needed to initiate anaphase. In contrast, adding an N-terminal fragment of cyclin, which acts as a specific competitor for cyclin degradation, produces a dose-dependent delay in MPF inactivation and sister chromatid separation. Methylated ubiquitin, which inhibits ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis, also delays sister chromatid separation, suggesting that ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis is necessary to initiate anaphase. The N-terminal cyclin fragment inhibits chromosome separation even in extracts that contain only nondegradable forms of cyclin, suggesting that proteins other than the known cyclins must be degraded to dissolve the linkage between sister chromatids.