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In embryology, cleavage is the division of cells in the early embryo. The zygotes of many species undergo rapid cell cycles with no significant growth, producing a cluster of cells the same size as the original zygote. Depending mostly on the amount of yolk in the egg, the cleavage can be holoblastic (total) or meroblastic (partial). The different cells derived from cleavage (up to the blastula stage) are called blastomeres.
See also: embryogenesis.
In the absence of a large concentration of yolk, four major cleavage types can be observed in isolecithal cells - bilateral holoblastic, radial holoblastic, rotational holoblastic, and spiral holoblastic, cleavage. These holoblastic cleavage planes pass all the way through isolecithal zygotes during the process of cytokinesis. Coeloblastula is the next stage of development for eggs that undergo these radial cleavaging. In holoblastic eggs the first cleavage always occurs along the vegetal-animal axis of the egg, the second cleavage is perpendicular to the first. From here the spatial arrangement of blastomeres can follow various patterns, due to different planes of cleavage, in various organisms.
The first cleavage results in bisection of the zygote into left and right halves. The following cleavage planes are centered on this axis and result in the two halves being mirror images of one another. In bilateral holoblastic cleavage, the divisions of the blastomeres are complete and separate; compared with bilateral meroblastic cleavage, in which the blastomeres stay partially connected.
Mammals display rotational cleavage, and an isolecithal distribution of yolk (sparsely and evenly distributed). Because the cells have only a small amount of yolk, they require immediate implantation onto the uterine wall in order to receive nutrients.
In spiral cleavage, the cleavage planes are oriented obliquely to the polar axis of the oocyte. At the third cleavage the halves are oblique to the polar axis and typically produce an upper quartet of smaller cells that come to be set between the furrows of the lower quartet. All groups showing spiral cleavage are protostomia, such as annelids and mollusks.
In the presence of a large amount of yolk in the fertilized egg cell, the cell can undergo partial, or meroblastic, cleavage. Two major types of meroblastic cleavage are discoidal and superficial.
In discoidal cleavage, the cleavage furrows do not penetrate the yolk. The embryo forms a disc of cells, called a blastodisc, on top of the yolk. Discoidal cleavage is commonly found in birds, reptiles, and fish which have telolecithal egg cells (egg cells with the yolk concentrated at one end).
In superficial cleavage, mitosis occurs but not cytokinesis, resulting in a polynuclear cell. With the yolk positioned in the center of the egg cell, the nuclei migrate to the periphery of the egg, and the plasma membrane grows inward, partitioning the nuclei into individual cells. Superficial cleavage occurs in arthropods which have centrolecithal egg cells (egg cells with the yolk located in the center of the cell).
- Wilt, F. & Hake, S. (2004). Principles of Developmental Biology.
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