Differentiation of the Drosophila oocyte takes place in a cyst of 16 interconnected germ cells and is dependent on a network of microtubules that becomes polarized as differentiation progresses (polarization). We have investigated how the microtubule network polarizes using a GFP-tubulin construct that allows germ-cell microtubules to be visualized with greater sensitivity than in previous studies. Unexpectedly, microtubules are seen to associate with the fusome, an asymmetric germline-specific organelle, which elaborates as cysts form and undergoes complex changes during cyst polarization. This fusome-microtubule association occurs periodically during late interphases of cyst divisions and then continuously in 16-cell cysts that have entered meiotic prophase. As meiotic cysts move through the germarium, microtubule minus ends progressively focus towards the center of the fusome, as visualized using a NOD-lacZ marker. During this same period, discrete foci rich in gamma tubulin that very probably correspond to migrating cystocyte centrosomes also associate with the fusome, first on the fusome arms and then in its center, subsequently moving into the differentiating oocyte. The fusome is required for this complex process, because microtubule network organization and polarization are disrupted in hts(1) mutant cysts, which lack fusomes. Our results suggest that the fusome, a specialized membrane-skeletal structure, which arises in early germ cells, plays a crucial role in polarizing 16-cell cysts, at least in part by interacting with microtubules and centrosomes.

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