Inhibitor studies have implicated microtubules in at least three important developmental processes during Drosophila oogenesis: oocyte determination and growth during stages 1 through 6, positioning of the anterior determinant bicoid mRNA during stages 9 through 12, and ooplasmic streaming during stages 10b through 12. We have used fluorescence cytochemistry together with laser scanning confocal microscopy to identify distinct microtubule structures at each of the above three periods that are likely to be involved in these processes. During stages 1 through 7, maternal components synthesized in nurse cells are transported through cytoplasmic bridges to the oocyte. At this time, microtubules that appear to originate in the oocyte pass through these cytoplasmic bridges into the adjacent nurse cells; these microtubules are likely to serve as a polarized scaffold on which maternal RNAs and proteins are transported. During stages 7 and 8, microtubules in the oocyte cortex reorganize to form an anterior-to-posterior gradient, suggesting a role for microtubules in the localization of morphogenetic determinants. Finally, when ooplasmic streaming begins during stage 10 b, it is accompanied by the assembly of subsurface microtubule arrays that spiral around the oocyte; these arrays disassemble as the oocyte matures and streaming stops. During ooplasmic streaming, many vesicles are closely associated with the subsurface microtubules, suggesting that streaming is driven by vesicle translocation along microtubules. We believe that actin plays a secondary role in each of these morphogenetic events, based on our parallel studies of actin organization during each of the above stages of oogenesis.

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