The INCENPs are two polypeptides of 135 × 10(3) and 150 × 10(3) Mr that enter mitosis as tightly bound chromosomal proteins, but subsequently leave the chromosomes altogether and become associated with the central spindle and cell cortex at the contractile ring. In the experiments reported here we have used confocal microscopy and immunoelectron microscopy to provide a detailed picture of the intracellular location of these proteins during mitosis. The experiments have not only revealed a number of new details concerning the properties of the INCENPs in mitosis, but have revealed a number of novel aspects of the mitotic process itself. The first of these is the existence of a sequential pathway of structural changes in the chromosomes that occurs during metaphase. This pathway is revealed by the existence of four distinct INCENP staining patterns in mitotic cells. In ‘early’ and ‘early/mid’ metaphase, the INCENPs gradually become concentrated at the centromeres, forming a ring at the center of the metaphase plate. During ‘mid/late’ metaphase they exit from the chromosomes, so that by late metaphase they are found solely in streaks that traverse the plate parallel to the spindle axis. The streaks probably correspond to INCENPs closely associated with microtubule bundles, perhaps as part of the stem body material. Examination of transverse optical sections of the spindle interzone during early anaphase reveals an unexpectedly high degree of order. The INCENP antigens are localized on fibers that are organized into a hollow ring 8 microns in diameter and approximately 4 microns beneath the cell cortex. Measurement of cellular dimensions in the confocal microscope reveals that the maximum diameter of early anaphase cells lies across the spindle equator, so that when the cleavage furrow forms, it does so around the maximum circumference of the cell. During anaphase, a subpopulation of the INCENP antigen becomes localized to the cortex where the furrow will subsequently form. This occurs prior to any other evidence of furrowing. Thus, binding of the INCENPs to this region may represent an early step in furrow formation. Together, these results suggest that the INCENPs may represent a new class of ‘chromosomal passenger’ proteins that are carried to the spindle equator by the chromosomes and subsequently perform a cytoskeletal role following their release from the chromosomes at the metaphase:anaphase transition.

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