The Stages of Mitosis and Cell Division

Illustration depicting the stages of mitosis and cell divison

Mitosis is the phase of the cell cycle where chromosomes in the nucleus are evenly divided between two cells. When the cell division process is complete, two daughter cells with identical genetic material are produced. 

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These onion root tip plant cells are in interphase, prior to the start of mitosis. The cell nucleus, nuclear membrane, nucleolus, and chromatin are visible. Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Before a dividing cell enters mitosis, it undergoes a period of growth called interphase. Some 90 percent of a cell's time in the normal cellular cycle may be spent in interphase.

  • G1 phase: The period prior to the synthesis of DNA. In this phase, the cell increases in mass in preparation for cell division. Note that the G in G1 represents gap and the 1 represents first, so the G1 phase is the first gap phase.
  • S phase: The period during which DNA is synthesized. In most cells, there is a narrow window of time during which DNA is synthesized. Note that the S represents synthesis.
  • G2 phase: The period after DNA synthesis has occurred but prior to the start of prophase. The cell synthesizes proteins and continues to increase in size. Note that the G in G2 represents gap and the 2 represents second, so the G2 phase is the second gap phase.
  • In the latter part of interphase, the cell still has nucleoli present.
  • The nucleus is bounded by a nuclear envelope and the cell's chromosomes have duplicated but are in the form of chromatin.
  • In animal cells, two pairs of ​centrioles formed from the replication of one pair are located outside of the nucleus.
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This onion root tip plant cell is in early prophase of mitosis. Chromosomes, a nucleolus, and remnants of a nuclear membrane are visible. Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

In prophase, the chromatin condenses into discrete chromosomes. The nuclear envelope breaks down and spindles form at opposite poles of the cell. Prophase (versus interphase) is the first true step of the mitotic process.

Changes That Occur in Prophase

  • Chromatin fibers become coiled into chromosomes with each chromosome having two chromatids joined at a centromere.
  • The mitotic spindle, composed of microtubules and proteins, forms in the cytoplasm.
  • In animal cells, the mitotic spindle initially appears as structures called asters which surround each centriole pair.
  • The two pair of centrioles (formed from the replication of one pair in Interphase) move away from one another toward opposite ends of the cell due to the lengthening of the ​microtubules that form between them.

In Late Prophase

  • The nuclear envelope breaks up.
  • Polar fibers, which are microtubules that make up the spindle fibers, reach from each cell pole to the cell's equator.
  • Kinetochores, which are specialized regions in the centromeres of chromosomes, attach to a type of microtubule called kinetochore fibers.
  • The kinetochore fibers "interact" with the spindle polar fibers connecting the kinetochores to the polar fibers.
  • The chromosomes begin to migrate toward the cell center.
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This onion root tip plant cell is in metaphase of mitosis. Replicated chromosomes (chromatids) are lined up on the equator of the cell and are attached to the spindle fibers. The spindle along with the spindle fibers are evident. Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

In metaphase, the spindle fully develops and the chromosomes align at the metaphase plate (a plane that is equally distant from the two spindle poles).

Changes That Occur in Metaphase

  • The nuclear membrane disappears completely.
  • In animal cells, the two pair of centrioles align at opposite poles of the cell.
  • Polar fibers (microtubules that make up the spindle fibers) continue to extend from the poles to the center of the cell.
  • Chromosomes move randomly until they attach (at their kinetochores) to polar fibers from both sides of their centromeres.
  • Chromosomes align at the metaphase plate at right angles to the spindle poles.
  • Chromosomes are held at the metaphase plate by the equal forces of the polar fibers pushing on the centromeres of the chromosomes.
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This onion root tip plant cell is in anaphase of mitosis. The replicated chromosomes are moving to opposite ends of the cell. Spindle fibers (microtubules) are visible. Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

In anaphase, the paired chromosomes (sister chromatids) separate and begin moving to opposite ends (poles) of the cell. Spindle fibers not connected to chromatids lengthen and elongate the cell. At the end of anaphase, each pole contains a complete compilation of chromosomes.

Changes That Occur in Anaphase

  • The paired centromeres in each distinct chromosome begin to move apart.​
  • Once the paired sister chromatids separate from one another, each is considered a "full" chromosome. They are referred to as daughter chromosomes.​
  • Through the spindle apparatus, the daughter chromosomes move to the poles at opposite ends of the cell.​
  • The daughter chromosomes migrate centromere first and the kinetochore fibers become shorter as the chromosomes near a pole.​
  • In preparation for telophase, the two cell poles also move further apart during the course of anaphase. At the end of anaphase, each pole contains a complete compilation of chromosomes.
  • Cytokinesis (the division of the original cell's cytoplasm) begins and continues through telophase.
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This onion root tip plant cell is in telophase of mitosis. The chromosomes have migrated to opposite ends of the cell and new nuclei are forming. The cell plate is very evident, forming a new cell wall between the adjacent daughter cells. Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Getty Images

In telophase, the chromosomes are cordoned off into distinct new nuclei in the emerging daughter cells.

Changes That Occur in Telophase

  • The polar fibers continue to lengthen.
  • Nuclei (plural form of nucleus) begin to form at opposite poles.
  • The nuclear envelopes of these nuclei are formed from remnant pieces of the parent cell's nuclear envelope and from pieces of the endomembrane system.
  • Nucleoli (plural form of nucleolus) also reappear.
  • Chromatin fibers of chromosomes uncoil.
  • After these changes, telophase/mitosis is largely complete and the genetic contents of one cell have been divided equally into two.


Cytokinesis is the division of the cell's cytoplasm. It begins prior to the end of mitosis in anaphase and completes shortly after telophase/mitosis. At the end of cytokinesis, two genetically identical daughter cells are produced.

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Daughter Cells

Cancer Cell Mitosis
These cancer cells are undergoing cytokinesis (cell division). Cytokinesis occurs after nuclear division (mitosis), which produces two daughter nuclei. Mitosis produces two identical daughter cells. MAURIZIO DE ANGELIS/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

At the end of mitosis and cytokinesis, chromosomes are equally distributed between two daughter cells. These cells are identical diploid cells, with each cell containing a full complement of chromosomes.

Cells produced via mitosis are different from those produced via meiosis. In meiosis, four daughter cells are produced. These cells are haploid cells, containing one-half the number of chromosomes as the original cell. Sex cells undergo meiosis. When sex cells unite during fertilization, these haploid cells become a diploid cell.​