Rapid genome replication is one of the hallmarks of the frog embryonic cell cycle. We report here that complete reactivation of quiescent somatic cell nuclei in Xenopus egg extracts depends on prior restructuring of the nuclear substrate and prior preparation of cytoplasmic extract with the highest capacity to initiate and sustain DNA synthesis. Nuclei from mature erythrocytes swell, replicate their DNA efficiently, and enter mitosis in frozen/thawed extracts prepared from activated Xenopus eggs, provided the nuclei are first treated with trypsin, heparin, and an extract prepared from unactivated, meiotically arrested, eggs. Optimal replicating extracts are prepared from large batches of unfertilized eggs that are synchronously activated into the cell cycle for 28 minutes (at 20 degrees C). Because the Xenopus cell cycle progresses so rapidly, extracts prepared just a few minutes before or after this time have substantially lower DNA synthetic capacities. At the optimal time and temperature, eggs have just reached the G1/S boundary of the first cell cycle. This fact was revealed by injecting and replicating an SV40 plasmid in intact unfertilized eggs as described previously. We estimate that under optimal conditions approximately 6.14 × 10(9) base pairs of DNA/per nucleus are synthesized in 30–40 minutes, a rate that rivals that observed in the zygotic nucleus. The findings reported here are one step in our long term effort to develop a new in vitro/in vivo approach to nuclear transplantation. Nuclear transplantation in amphibian embryos has been used to establish that the genomes of many types of differentiated somatic cells are pluripotent. But very few such nuclei have ever developed into advanced tadpoles or adult frogs, probably because somatic nuclei injected directly into activated eggs fail to reactivate quickly enough to avoid being damaged during first mitosis. We have already shown that unfertilized eggs can be injected prior to activation of the first cell cycle. Future experiments will reveal whether in vitro reactivated somatic cell nuclei transplanted into such eggs reliably reach advanced stages of development.

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