Cell Metaphase: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:00 What Happens Before Metaphase?
  • 1:53 Metaphase
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katy Metzler

Katy teaches biology at the college level and did her Ph.D. work on infectious diseases and immunology.

During mitosis, the nucleus and its contents are replicated and divided into two. In this lesson, learn about metaphase, the third phase of mitosis, and test your understanding with a quiz.


When cells divide, their nuclei have to divide, too. It's crucial that all of the genetic material is perfectly divided so that exactly one copy of each chromosome goes into each daughter cell. This is quite a feat for a cell! To accomplish it, the cell undergoes a well-choreographed nuclear division process called mitosis. Mitosis is traditionally divided into five stages: prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase and telophase. In metaphase, the pairs of chromosomes are all lined up in the center of the cell, so that they can be pulled apart into the two daughter cells in the next phase of mitosis.

It's important to note that the same phases happen during meiosis, which is a different kind of nuclear division that produces our haploid sperm and egg cells. But in this lesson, we will focus on mitosis.

What Happens Before Metaphase?

Metaphase can't happen until several important steps are completed in the earlier stages of mitosis. Let's look at these steps more closely:

The Chromosomes Condense

First, the chromosomes, which were duplicated in S phase before mitosis even began, condense. Similar to winding up a ball of yarn, this makes the long, thin threads of DNA more manageable so that the cell division process can occur.

The Nucleus Breaks Down

The double membrane envelope surrounding the nucleus also disintegrates during the early stages of mitosis. It is important because there has to be a space for the chromosomes to separate.

The Centrosome Duplicates and the Mitotic Spindle Forms

Finally, the centrosome duplicates in the beginning of mitosis. The two new centrosomes move to opposite sides of the nucleus so that the microtubules coming out of them can form the mitotic spindle. The mitotic spindle is a framework of microtubules and their associated proteins that will mechanically separate the chromosomes during mitosis.


During metaphase, the replicated chromosomes line up in the center of the dividing cell. Here is a diagram of what metaphase looks like:

A diagram of metaphase.
A diagram of metaphase.

In this diagram, the centrosomes are the yellow structures (they look a little like tube-shaped pasta noodles) at either end of the cell, with yellow microtubules radiating out from them (the mitotic spindle). The chromosomes are shown in blue. As you can see, they are all lined up along an imaginary plane called the metaphase plate.

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