During development from stem to fully differentiated, cells in the body alternately divide (mitosis) and "appear" to be resting (interphase). This sequence of activities exhibited by cells is called the cell cycle.
Interphase, which appears to the eye to be a resting stage between cell divisions, is actually a period of diverse activities. Those interphase activities are indispensible in making the next mitosis possible.
Interphase: Interphase generally lasts at least 12 to 24 hours in mammalian tissue. During this period, the cell is constantly synthesizing RNA, producing protein and growing in size. By studying molecular events in cells, scientists have determined that interphase can be divided into 4 steps: Gap 0 (G0), Gap 1 (G1), S (synthesis) phase, Gap 2 (G2).
Gap 0 (G0): There are times when a cell will leave the cycle and quit dividing. This may be a temporary resting period or more permanent. An example of the latter is a cell that has reached an end stage of development and will no longer divide (e.g. neuron).
Gap 1 (G1): Cells increase in size in Gap 1, produce RNA and synthesize protein. An important cell cycle control mechanism activated during this period (G1 Checkpoint) ensures that everything is ready for DNA synthesis. (Click on the Checkpoints animation, above.)
S Phase: To produce two similar daughter cells, the complete DNA instructions in the cell must be duplicated. DNA replication occurs during this S (synthesis) phase.
Gap 2 (G2): During the gap between DNA synthesis and mitosis, the cell will continue to grow and produce new proteins. At the end of this gap is another control checkpoint (G2 Checkpoint) to determine if the cell can now proceed to enter M (mitosis) and divide.
Mitosis or M Phase: Cell growth and protein production stop at this stage in the cell cycle. All of the cell's energy is focused on the complex and orderly division into two similar daughter cells. Mitosis is much shorter than interphase, lasting perhaps only one to two hours. As in both G1 and G2, there is a Checkpoint in the middle of mitosis (Metaphase Checkpoint) that ensures the cell is ready to complete cell division. Actual stages of mitosis can be viewed at Animal Cell Mitosis.
Animal Cell Mitosis
Events during Mitosis
Interphase: Cells may appear inactive during this stage, but they are quite the opposite. This is the longest period of the complete cell cycle during which DNA replicates, the centrioles divide, and proteins are actively produced. For a complete description of the events during Interphase, read about the Cell Cycle.
Prophase: During this first mitotic stage, the nucleolus fades and chromatin (replicated DNA and associated proteins) condenses into chromosomes. Each replicated chromosome comprises two chromatids, both with the same genetic information. Microtubules of the cytoskeleton, responsible for cell shape, motility and attachment to other cells during interphase, disassemble. And the building blocks of these microtubules are used to grow the mitotic spindle from the region of the centrosomes.
Prometaphase: In this stage the nuclear envelope breaks down so there is no longer a recognizable nucleus. Some mitotic spindle fibers elongate from the centrosomes and attach to kinetochores, protein bundles at the centromere region on the chromosomes where sister chromatids are joined. Other spindle fibers elongate but instead of attaching to chromosomes, overlap each other at the cell center.
Metaphase: Tension applied by the spindle fibers aligns all chromosomes in one plane at the center of the cell.
Anaphase: Spindle fibers shorten, the kinetochores separate, and the chromatids (daughter chromosomes) are pulled apart and begin moving to the cell poles.
Telophase: The daughter chromosomes arrive at the poles and the spindle fibers that have pulled them apart disappear.
Cytokinesis: The spindle fibers not attached to chromosomes begin breaking down until only that portion of overlap is left. It is in this region that a contractile ring cleaves the cell into two daughter cells. Microtubules then reorganize into a new cytoskeleton for the return to interphase.