Radial microtubule (MT) arrays or asters determine cell geometry in animal cells. Multiple asters interacting with motors, such as those in syncytia, form intracellular patterns, but the mechanical principles behind this are not clear. Here, we report that oocytes of the marine ascidian Phallusia mammillata treated with the drug BI-D1870 spontaneously form cytoplasmic MT asters, or cytasters. These asters form steady state segregation patterns in a shell just under the membrane. Cytaster centers tessellate the oocyte cytoplasm, that is divide it into polygonal structures, dominated by hexagons, in a kinesin-5-dependent manner, while inter-aster MTs form ‘mini-spindles’. A computational model of multiple asters interacting with kinesin-5 can reproduce both tessellation patterns and mini-spindles in a manner specific to the number of MTs per aster, MT lengths and kinesin-5 density. Simulations predict that the hexagonal tessellation patterns scale with increasing cell size, when the packing fraction of asters in cells is ∼1.6. This self-organized in vivo tessellation by cytasters is comparable to the ‘circle packing problem’, suggesting that there is an intrinsic mechanical pattern-forming module that is potentially relevant to understanding the role of collective mechanics of cytoskeletal elements in embryogenesis.

This article has an associated First Person interview with the first author of the paper.

You do not currently have access to this content.