Cytoplasmic flows in starfish oocytes are fully determined by cortical contractions

Nils Klughammer, Johanna Bischof, Nikolas D. Schnellbächer, Andrea Callegari, Péter Lénárt, Ulrich S. Schwarz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Cytoplasmic flows are an ubiquitous feature of biological systems, in particular in large cells, such as oocytes and eggs in early animal development. Here we show that cytoplasmic flows in starfish oocytes, which can be imaged well with transmission light microscopy, are fully determined by the cortical dynamics during surface contraction waves. We first show that the dynamics of the oocyte surface is highly symmetric around the animal-vegetal axis. We then mathematically solve the Stokes equation for flows inside a deforming sphere using the measured surface displacements as boundary conditions. Our theoretical predictions agree very well with the intracellular flows quantified by particle image velocimetry, proving that during this stage the starfish cytoplasm behaves as a simple Newtonian fluid on the micrometer scale. We calculate the pressure field inside the oocyte and find that its gradient is too small as to explain polar body extrusion, in contrast to earlier suggestions. Myosin II inhibition by blebbistatin confirms this conclusion, because it diminishes cell shape changes and hydrodynamic flow, but does not abolish polar body formation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1006588
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


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