During meiotic maturation, the cortical cytokeratin filament system of the Xenopus oocyte disappears (Klymkowsky, M. W., and L. A. Maynell. 1989. Dev. Biol. 134:479). Here we demonstrate that this disappearance results from the severing of cytokeratin filaments into a heterogenous population of oligomers, with S- values ranging from 12S and greater. Cytokeratin filament severing correlates with the hyperphosphorylation of the type II cytokeratin of the oocyte. Both the severing of cytokeratin filaments and cytokeratin hyperphosphorylation are reversed by treatment with cycloheximide. These data suggest that fragmentation of cytokeratin filaments is controlled, at least in part, by the phosphorylation of the type II cytokeratin, and that the cytokeratin kinase activity responsible is biosynthetically labile. Cytokeratin filaments have been suggested to anchor the maternal mRNA Vg1 to the vegetal cortex of the oocyte (Pondel, M., and M. L. King. 1988. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 85:7216). By injecting fractions containing active maturation promoting factor or a purified, mutant cyclin protein, we find that the bulk of the Vg1 mRNA in the oocyte can be solubilized under conditions that block the fragmentation of cytokeratin filaments, and that the fragmentation of cytokeratin filaments itself leads to the solubilization of only a minor fraction of the Vg1 mRNA. Thus, at best, cytokeratin filaments directly anchor only a minor fraction of the Vg1 mRNA in the oocyte. Moreover, factors distinct from maturation promoting factor appear to be required for the complete solubilization of Vg1 mRNA during oocyte maturation.

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