BACKGROUND: The regulated assembly of microtubules is essential for bipolar spindle formation. Depending on cell type, microtubules nucleate through two different pathways: centrosome-driven or chromatin-driven. The chromatin-driven pathway dominates in cells lacking centrosomes. RESULTS: Human RHAMM (receptor for hyaluronic-acid-mediated motility) was originally implicated in hyaluronic-acid-induced motility but has since been shown to associate with centrosomes and play a role in astral spindle pole integrity in mitotic systems. We have identified the Xenopus ortholog of human RHAMM as a microtubule-associated protein that plays a role in focusing spindle poles and is essential for efficient microtubule nucleation during spindle assembly without centrosomes. XRHAMM associates both with gamma-TuRC, a complex required for microtubule nucleation and with TPX2, a protein required for microtubule nucleation and spindle pole organization. CONCLUSIONS: XRHAMM facilitates Ran-dependent, chromatin-driven nucleation in a process that may require coordinate activation of TPX2 and gamma-TuRC.