Cortical microtubule nucleation can organise the cytoskeleton of Drosophila oocytes to define the anteroposterior axis
Many cells contain non-centrosomal arrays of microtubules (MTs), but the assembly, organisation and function of these arrays are poorly understood. We present the first theoretical model for the non-centrosomal MT cytoskeleton in Drosophila oocytes, in which bicoid and oskar mRNAs become localised to establish the anterior-posterior body axis. Constrained by experimental measurements, the model shows that a simple gradient of cortical MT nucleation is sufficient to reproduce the observed MT distribution, cytoplasmic flow patterns and localisation of oskar and naive bicoid mRNAs. Our simulations exclude a major role for cytoplasmic flows in localisation and reveal an organisation of the MT cytoskeleton that is more ordered than previously thought. Furthermore, modulating cortical MT nucleation induces a bifurcation in cytoskeletal organisation that accounts for the phenotypes of polarity mutants. Thus, our three-dimensional model explains many features of the MT network and highlights the importance of differential cortical MT nucleation for axis formation.