Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Genes and Development

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Jill Schumacher, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sharon Dent, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Swathi Arur, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lei Li, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Xiangwei He, Ph.D.


Deregulation of kinase activity is one example of how cells become cancerous by evading evolutionary constraints. The Tousled kinase (Tsl) was initially identified in Arabidopsis thaliana as a developmentally important kinase. There are two mammalian orthologues of Tsl and one orthologue in C. elegans, TLK-1, which is essential for embryonic viability and germ cell development. Depletion of TLK-1 leads to embryonic arrest large, distended nuclei, and ultimately embryonic lethality. Prior to terminal arrest, TLK-1-depleted embryos undergo aberrant mitoses characterized by poor metaphase chromosome alignment, delayed mitotic progression, lagging chromosomes, and supernumerary centrosomes.

I discovered an unanticipated requirement for TLK-1 in mitotic spindle assembly and positioning. Normally, in the newly-fertilized zygote (P0) the maternal pronucleus migrates toward the paternal pronucleus at the posterior end of the embryo. After pronuclear meeting, the pronuclear-centrosome complex rotates 90° during centration to align on the anteroposterior axis followed by nuclear envelope breakdown (NEBD). However, in TLK-1-depleted P0 embryos, the centrosome-pronuclear complex rotation is significantly delayed with respect to NEBD and chromosome congression, Additionally, centrosome positions over time in tlk-1(RNAi) early embryos revealed a defect in posterior centrosome positioning during spindle-pronuclear centration, and 4D analysis of centrosome positions and movement in newly fertilized embryos showed aberrant centrosome dynamics in TLK-1-depleted embryos.

Several mechanisms contribute to spindle rotation, one of which is the anchoring of astral microtubules to the cell cortex. Attachment of these microtubules to the cortices is thought to confer the necessary stability and forces in order to rotate the centrosome-pronuclear complex in a timely fashion. Analysis of a microtubule end-binding protein revealed that TLK-1-depleted embryos exhibit a more stochastic distribution of microtubule growth toward the cell cortices, and the types of microtubule attachments appear to differ from wild-type embryos. Additionally, fewer astral microtubules are in the vicinity of the cell cortex, thus suggesting that the delayed spindle rotation could be in part due to a lack of appropriate microtubule attachments to the cell cortex. Together with recently published biochemical data revealing the Tousled-like kinases associate with components of the dynein microtubule motor complex in humans, these data suggest that Tousled-like kinases play an important role in mitotic spindle assembly and positioning.


C. elegans, Tousled-like Kinase, spindle positioning, embryogenesis, cell biology



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