Cell Division

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the stages of the cell cycle
  • Discuss how the cell cycle is regulated
  • Describe the implications of losing control over the cell cycle
  • Describe the stages of mitosis and cytokinesis, in order

So far in this chapter, you have read numerous times of the importance and prevalence of cell division. While there are a few cells in the body that do not undergo cell division (such as red blood cells, most neurons, and some muscle cells), most somatic cells divide regularly. A somatic cell is a general term for a body cell, and all human cells, except for the cells that produce eggs and sperm (which are referred to as germ cells), are somatic cells. Somatic cells contain two copies of each of their chromosomes (one copy received from each parent) for a total of 46 (23 pairs).  Cells in the body replace themselves over the lifetime of a person. For example, the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract must be frequently replaced when constantly “worn off” by the movement of food through the gut. But what triggers a cell to divide, and how does it prepare for and complete cell division? The cell cycle is the sequence of events in the life of the cell from the moment it is created at the end of a previous cycle of cell division until it then divides itself, generating two new cells.

The Cell Cycle

One “turn” or cycle of the cell cycle consists of three general phases: interphase, mitosis, and cytokinesis.   Interphase is the period of the cell cycle during which the cell is not dividing. The majority of cells are in interphase most of the time. Mitosis is the division of genetic material, during which the cell nucleus breaks down and two new, fully functional, nuclei are formed. Cytokinesis divides the cytoplasm into two distinctive cells.

Interphase

A cell grows and carries out all normal metabolic functions and processes in a period called G1 (Figure 3.23). G1 phase (gap 1 phase) is the first gap, or growth phase in the cell cycle. For cells that will divide again, G1 is followed by replication of the DNA, during the S phase. The S phase (synthesis phase) is period during which a cell replicates its DNA.

This figure shows the different stages of the cell cycle. The G0 phase where the cells are not actively dividing is also labeled.
Figure 3.23. Cell Cycle
The two major phases of the cell cycle include mitosis (cell division), and interphase, when the cell grows and performs all of its normal functions. Interphase is further subdivided into G1, S, and G2 phases.

After the synthesis phase, the cell proceeds through the G2 phase. The G2 phase is a second gap phase, during which the cell continues to grow and makes the necessary preparations for mitosis. Between G1, S, and G2 phases, cells will vary the most in their duration of the G1 phase. It is here that a cell might spend a couple of hours, or many days. The S phase typically lasts between 8-10 hours and the G2 phase approximately 5 hours. In contrast to these phases, the G0 phase is a resting phase of the cell cycle. Cells that have temporarily stopped dividing and are resting (a common condition) and cells that have permanently ceased dividing (like nerve cells) are said to be in G0.

When recognizing a cell in interphase using a microscope, it is best to look for a cell that has a visible nucleus with a nuclear envelop.  In interphase, DNA is still in the form of chromatin.  Chromosomes cannot be seen in interphase (fig. 3.24).

Figure 3.24. Interphase
The arrow is pointing to a cell in interphase.  In fact, most of the surrounding cells are in interphase with the exception of 3.  Can you find the 3 cells that are not in interphase?

The Structure of Chromosomes

Billions of cells in the human body divide every day. During the synthesis phase (S, for DNA synthesis) of interphase, the amount of DNA within the cell precisely doubles. Therefore, after DNA replication but before cell division, each cell actually contains two copies of each chromosome. Each copy of the chromosome is referred to as a sister chromatid and is physically bound to the other copy. The centromere is the structure that attaches one sister chromatid to another. Because a human cell has 46 chromosomes, during this phase, there are 92 chromatids (46 × 2) in the cell.

This image shows a pair of chromosomes. The major parts such as the homologous chromosomes, kinetochore and the sister chromatids are labeled.
Figure 3.25. A Homologous Pair of Chromosomes with their Attached Sister Chromatids
The red and blue colors correspond to a homologous pair of chromosomes. Each member of the pair was separately inherited from one parent. Each chromosome in the homologous pair is also bound to an identical sister chromatid, which is produced by DNA replication, and results in the familiar “X” shape.

Mitosis and Cytokinesis

The mitotic phase of the cell typically takes between 1 and 2 hours. During this phase, a cell undergoes two major processes. First, it completes mitosis, during which the contents of the nucleus are equitably pulled apart and distributed between its two halves. Cytokinesis then occurs, dividing the cytoplasm and cell body into two new cells. Mitosis is divided into four major stages that take place after interphase (Figure 3.26) and in the following order: prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. The process is then followed by cytokinesis.

0331_Stages_of _Mitosis_and_Cytokinesis
Figure 3.26. Cell Division: Mitosis Followed by Cytokinesis
The stages of cell division oversee the separation of identical genetic material into two new nuclei, followed by the division of the cytoplasm.

Prophase is the first phase of mitosis, during which the loosely packed chromatin coils and condenses into visible chromosomes (fig. 3.27). During prophase, each chromosome becomes visible with its identical partner attached, forming the familiar X-shape of sister chromatids. The nucleolus disappears early during this phase, and the nuclear envelope also disintegrates. A major occurrence during prophase concerns a very important structure that contains the origin site for microtubule growth. Recall the cellular structures called centrioles that serve as origin points from which microtubules extend. These tiny structures also play a very important role during mitosis. A centrosome is a pair of centrioles together. The cell contains two centrosomes side-by-side, which begin to move apart during prophase. As the centrosomes migrate to two different sides of the cell, microtubules begin to extend from each like long fingers from two hands extending toward each other. The mitotic spindle is the structure composed of the centrosomes and their emerging microtubules. Near the end of prophase there is an invasion of the nuclear area by microtubules from the mitotic spindle. The nuclear membrane has disintegrated, and the microtubules attach themselves to the centromeres that adjoin pairs of sister chromatids. The kinetochore is a protein structure on the centromere that is the point of attachment between the mitotic spindle and the sister chromatids. This stage is referred to as late prophase or “prometaphase” to indicate the transition between prophase and metaphase.

Figure 3.27. Prophase
The first stage of mitosis.  Chromosomes are visible, the nuclear envelope has disappeared.

Metaphase is the second stage of mitosis. During this stage, the sister chromatids, with their attached microtubules, line up along a linear plane in the middle of the cell (fig. 3.28). A metaphase plate forms between the centrosomes that are now located at either end of the cell. The metaphase plate is the name for the plane through the center of the spindle on which the sister chromatids are positioned. The microtubules are now poised to pull apart the sister chromatids and bring one from each pair to each side of the cell.

Figure 3.28. Metaphase
The arrow is pointing to a cell within metaphase.  Chromosomes are organized, lined up at the equator of the cell.

Anaphase is the third stage of mitosis. Anaphase takes place over a few minutes, when the pairs of sister chromatids are separated from one another, forming individual chromosomes once again. These chromosomes are pulled to opposite ends of the cell by their kinetochores, as the microtubules shorten (fig. 3.29). Each end of the cell receives one partner from each pair of sister chromatids, ensuring that the two new daughter cells will contain identical genetic material.

Figure 3.29. Anaphase
The arrow is pointing to a cell in anaphase.  Note how the chromosomes are separated into two sides with a clear area between them.

Telophase is the final stage of mitosis. Telophase is characterized by the formation of two new daughter nuclei at either end of the dividing cell. These newly formed nuclei surround the genetic material, which uncoils such that the chromosomes return to loosely packed chromatin. Nucleoli also reappear within the new nuclei, and the mitotic spindle breaks apart, each new cell receiving its own complement of DNA, organelles, membranes, and centrioles. At this point, the cell is already beginning to split in half as cytokinesis begins. The cleavage furrow is a contractile band made up of microfilaments that forms around the midline of the cell during cytokinesis (fig. 3.30).

Figure 3.30. Telophase
The arrow is pointing to a cell within telophase.  Two nuclei are present within the cell and the cleavage furrow is visible.  The process of cytokinesis is beginning.

The cleavage furrow continues to squeeze the two cells apart until they finally separate in a process called cytokinesis. Cytokinesis occurs at the end of telophase, and some even consider cytokinesis to be a part of telophase. Two new cells are now formed. One of these cells (the “stem cell”) enters its own cell cycle; able to grow and divide again at some future time. The other cell transforms into the functional cell of the tissue, typically replacing an “old” cell there.

The Cell Cycle Out of Control: Implications

Most people understand that cancer or tumors are caused by abnormal cells that multiply continuously. If the abnormal cells continue to divide unstopped, they can damage the tissues around them, spread to other parts of the body, and eventually result in death. In healthy cells, the tight regulation mechanisms of the cell cycle prevent this from happening, while failures of cell cycle control can cause unwanted and excessive cell division. Failures of control may be caused by inherited genetic abnormalities that compromise the function of certain “stop” and “go” signals. Environmental insult that damages DNA can also cause dysfunction in those signals. Often, a combination of both genetic predisposition and environmental factors lead to cancer. The process of a cell escaping its normal control system and becoming cancerous may actually happen throughout the body quite frequently. Fortunately, certain cells of the immune system are capable of recognizing cells that have become cancerous and destroying them. However, in certain cases the cancerous cells remain undetected and continue to proliferate. If the resulting tumor does not pose a threat to surrounding tissues, it is said to be benign and can usually be easily removed. If capable of damage, the tumor is considered malignant and the patient is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is an extremely complex condition, capable of arising from a wide variety of genetic and environmental causes. Typically, mutations or aberrations in a cell’s DNA that compromise normal cell cycle control systems lead to cancerous tumors. Cell cycle control is an example of a homeostatic mechanism that maintains proper cell function and health.

 

Interactive Link

Visit this link to learn about mitosis. Mitosis results in two identical diploid cells. What structures forms during prophase?