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2.34: Mitosis and Cytokinesis

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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What is meant by the "division of the nucleus"?

What do you think this colorful picture shows? If you guessed that it’s a picture of a cell undergoing cell division, you are right. But more specifically, the image is a lung cell stained with fluorescent dyes undergoing mitosis, during early anaphase.

Mitosis and Cytokinesis

During mitosis, when the nucleus divides, the two chromatids that make up each chromosome separate from each other and move to opposite poles of the cell. This is shown in Figure below. You can watch an animation of the process at the following link: http://www.biology.arizona.edu/Cell_bio/tutorials/cell_cycle/MitosisFlash.html.

Mitosis is the phase of the eukaryotic cell cycle that occurs between DNA replication and the formation of two daughter cells. What happens during mitosis?

Mitosis actually occurs in four phases. The phases are called prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. They are shown in Figure below and described in greater detail in the following sections.

Mitosis in the Eukaryotic Cell Cycle. Mitosis is the multi-phase process in which the nucleus of a eukaryotic cell divides.


The first and longest phase of mitosis is prophase. During prophase, chromatin condenses into chromosomes, and the nuclear envelope, or membrane, breaks down. In animal cells, the centrioles near the nucleus begin to separate and move to opposite poles (sides) of the cell. As the centrioles move, a spindle starts to form between them. The spindle, shown in Figure below, consists of fibers made of microtubules.

Spindle. The spindle starts to form during prophase of mitosis. Kinetochores on the spindle attach to the centromeres of sister chromatids.


During metaphase, spindle fibers attach to the centromere of each pair of sister chromatids (see Figure below). The sister chromatids line up at the equator, or center, of the cell. The spindle fibers ensure that sister chromatids will separate and go to different daughter cells when the cell divides.

Chromosomes, consisting of sister chromatids, line up at the equator of the cell during metaphase.


During anaphase, sister chromatids separate and the centromeres divide. The sister chromatids are pulled apart by the shortening of the spindle fibers. This is like reeling in a fish by shortening the fishing line. One sister chromatid moves to one pole of the cell, and the other sister chromatid moves to the opposite pole. At the end of anaphase, each pole of the cell has a complete set of chromosomes.


During telophase, the chromosomes begin to uncoil and form chromatin. This prepares the genetic material for directing the metabolic activities of the new cells. The spindle also breaks down, and new nuclear membranes form.


Cytokinesis is the final stage of cell division in eukaryotes as well as prokaryotes. During cytokinesis, the cytoplasm splits in two and the cell divides. Cytokinesis occurs somewhat differently in plant and animal cells, as shown in Figure below. In animal cells, the plasma membrane of the parent cell pinches inward along the cell’s equator until two daughter cells form. In plant cells, a cell plate forms along the equator of the parent cell. Then, a new plasma membrane and cell wall form along each side of the cell plate.

Cytokinesis is the final stage of eukaryotic cell division. It occurs differently in animal and plant cells.

The phases of mitosis are discussed in the video: http://www.youtube.com/user/khanacademy#p/c/7A9646BC5110CF64/8/LLKX_4DHE3I.

The four phases of mitosis. Can you describe what happens in each phase?


  • Cell division in eukaryotic cells includes mitosis, in which the nucleus divides, and cytokinesis, in which the cytoplasm divides and daughter cells form.
  • Mitosis occurs in four phases, called prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase.

Practice I

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. Why do cells undergo mitosis?
  2. What are sister chromatids?
  3. Define centromere and kinetochore.
  4. What is the function of the mitotic spindle?
  5. What are centrosomes and centrioles?
  6. In what phase of mitosis do chromosomes line up at the center of the cell?
  7. How are sister chromatids separated?
  8. Compare cytokinesis in animal and plant cells.

Practice II


1. List the phases of mitosis.

2. What happens during prophase of mitosis?

3. During which phase of mitosis do sister chromatids separate?

4. Describe what happens during cytokinesis in animal cells.

5. If a cell skipped metaphase during mitosis, how might this affect the two daughter cells?

6. Explain the significance of the spindle in mitosis.

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anaphase Third phase of mitosis during which sister chromatids separate and move to opposite poles of the cell.
centriole Structure that arrange the mitotic spindles; made of microtubules.
cytokinesis Splitting of the cytoplasm to form daughter cells when a cell divides.
metaphase Second phase of mitosis during which chromosomes line up at the equator of the cell.
mitosis Process in which the nucleus of a eukaryotic cell divides.
prophase First phase of mitosis during which chromatin condense into chromosomes, the nuclear envelope breaks down, centrioles separate, and a spindle begins to form.
spindle Microtubule fibers that enable the separation of sister chromatids during mitosis and meiosis.
telophase Last stage of mitosis during which chromosomes uncoil to form chromatin, the spindle breaks down, and new nuclear membranes form.

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Difficulty Level:
At Grade
Date Created:
Feb 24, 2012
Last Modified:
Sep 04, 2016
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