Control of the Cell Cycle

The length of the cell cycle is highly variable, even within the cells of a single organism. In humans, the frequency of cell turnover ranges from a few hours in early embryonic development, to an average of two to five days for epithelial cells, and to an entire human lifetime spent in G0 by specialized cells, such as cortical neurons or cardiac muscle cells.

There is also variation in the time that a cell spends in each phase of the cell cycle. When rapidly dividing mammalian cells are grown in a culture (outside the body under optimal growing conditions), the length of the cell cycle is about 24 hours. In rapidly dividing human cells with a 24-hour cell cycle, the G1 phase lasts approximately nine hours, the S phase lasts 10 hours, the G2 phase lasts about four and one-half hours, and the M phase lasts approximately one-half hour. By comparison, in fertilized eggs (and early embryos) of fruit flies, the cell cycle is completed in about eight minutes. This is because the nucleus of the fertilized egg divides many times by mitosis but does not go through cytokinesis until a multinucleate “zygote” has been produced, with many nuclei located along the periphery of the cell membrane, thereby shortening the time of the cell division cycle. The timing of events in the cell cycle of both “invertebrates” and “vertebrates” is controlled by mechanisms that are both internal and external to the cell.