The cell nuclei of Ophisthokonts, the eukaryotic supergroup defined by fungi and metazoans, is remarkable in the constancy of both their double-membraned structure and protein composition. Such remarkable structural conservation underscores common and ancient evolutionary origins. Yet, the dynamics of disassembly and reassembly displayed by Ophisthokont nuclei vary extensively. Besides closed mitosis in fungi and open mitosis in some animals, little is known about the evolution of nuclear envelope break down (NEBD) during cell division. Here, we uncovered a novel form of NEBD in primary oocytes of the flatworm Schmidtea mediterranea. From zygotene to metaphase II, both nuclear envelope (NE) and peripheral endoplasmic reticulum (ER) expand notably in size, likely involving de novo membrane synthesis. 3-D electron microscopy reconstructions demonstrated that the NE transforms itself into numerous double-membraned vesicles similar in membrane architecture to NE doublets in mammalian oocytes after germinal vesicle breakdown. The vesicles are devoid of nuclear pore complexes and DNA, yet are loaded with nuclear proteins, including a planarian homologue of PIWI, a protein essential for the maintenance of stem cells in this and other organisms. Our data contribute a new model to the canonical view of NE dynamics and support that NEBD is an evolutionarily adaptable trait in multicellular organisms.
Address reprint requests to: Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado