The effects of phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) and other activators of protein kinase C on the cytoskeletal organization of mouse oocytes and early embryos have been examined. The effects observed depended on the developmental stage on exposure to PMA. PMA had little effect on the cytoskeletal or microvillous organization of unfertilized oocytes. Interphase cells from embryos prior to compaction showed limited disruption and loss of microvilli when exposed to PMA and foci of polymerized actin remained visible in the cytocortex of embryos up to the early 8-cell stage. When compacted late 8-cell embryos were exposed to PMA, most microvilli were lost and little polymerized actin remained in the cytocortex. PMA also caused loss of microtubules from compact 8-cell embryos under some experimental conditions. Intercellular flattening was both prevented and reversed. The relevance of these observations to the rearrangement of cell-cell contacts and cytoskeletal organization seen during compaction at the 8-cell stage is discussed and a possible role for protein kinase C in the generation of cell polarity proposed.

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