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Widespread RNA segregation in a spiralian embryo


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SUMMARY Asymmetric cell divisions are a crucial mode of cell fate specification in multicellular organisms, but their relative contribution to early embryonic patterning varies among taxa. In the embryo of the mollusc Ilyanassa, most of the early cell divisions are overtly asymmetric. During Ilyanassa early cleavage, mRNAs for several conserved developmental patterning genes localize to interphase centrosomes, and then during division they move to a portion of the cortex that will be inherited by one daughter cell. Here we report an unbiased survey of RNA localization in the Ilyanassa embryo, and examine the overall patterns of centrosomal localization during early development. We find that 3–4% of RNAs are specifically localized to centrosomes during early development, and the remainder are either ubiquitously distributed throughout the cytoplasm or weakly enriched on centrosomes compared with levels in the cytoplasm. We observe centrosomal localization of RNAs in all cells from zygote through the fifth cleavage cycle, and asymmetric RNA segregation in all divisions after the four-cell stage. Remarkably, each specifically localized message is found on centrosomes in a unique subset of cells during early cleavages, and most are found in unique sets of cells at the 24-cell stage. Several specifically localized RNAs are homologous to developmental regulatory proteins in other embryos. These results demonstrate that the mechanisms of localization and segregation are extraordinarily intricate in this system, and suggest that these events are involved in cell fate specification across all lineages in the early Ilyanassa embryo. We propose that greater reliance on segregation of determinants in early cleavage increases constraint on cleavage patterns in molluscs and other spiralian groups.