During animal development cellular differentiation is often preceded by an asymmetric cell division whose polarity is determined by the orientation of the mitotic spindle. In the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, the oocyte differentiates in a 16-cell syncytium that arises from a cystoblast which undergoes 4 synchronous divisions with incomplete cytokinesis. During these divisions, spindle orientation is highly ordered and is thought to impart a polarity to the cyst that is necessary for the subsequent differentiation of the oocyte. Using mutations in the Drosophila cytoplasmic dynein heavy chain gene, Dhc64C, we show that cytoplasmic dynein is required at two stages of oogenesis. Early in oogenesis, dynein mutations disrupt spindle orientation in dividing cysts and block oocyte determination. The localization of dynein in mitotic cysts suggests spindle orientation is mediated by the microtubule motor cytoplasmic dynein. Later in oogenesis, dynein function is necessary for proper differentiation, but does not appear to participate in morphogen localization within the oocyte. These results provide evidence for a novel developmental role for the cytoplasmic dynein motor in cellular determination and differentiation.

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