Meiotic spindles are positioned perpendicular to the oocyte cortex to facilitate segregation of chromosomes into a large egg and a tiny polar body. In C. elegans, spindles are initially ellipsoid and parallel to the cortex before shortening to a near-spherical shape with flattened poles and then rotating to the perpendicular orientation by dynein-driven cortical pulling. The mechanistic connection between spindle shape and rotation has remained elusive. Here, we have used three different genetic backgrounds to manipulate spindle shape without eliminating dynein-dependent movement or dynein localization. Ellipsoid spindles with flattened or pointed poles became trapped in either a diagonal or a parallel orientation. Mathematical models that recapitulated the shape dependence of rotation indicated that the lower viscous drag experienced by spherical spindles prevented recapture of the cortex by astral microtubules emanating from the pole pivoting away from the cortex. In addition, maximizing contact between pole dynein and cortical dynein stabilizes flattened poles in a perpendicular orientation, and spindle rigidity prevents spindle bending that can lock both poles at the cortex. Spindle shape can thus promote perpendicular orientation by three distinct mechanisms.
Summary: Using three different genetic backgrounds to manipulate spindle shape without eliminating dynein-dependent movement or dynein localization, we reveal that spindle shape ensures correct orientation at the oocyte cortex to prevent lethal polyploidy.