During mitosis an inhibitory activity associated with unattached kinetochores prevents PtK1 cells from entering anaphase until all kinetochores become attached to the spindle. To gain a better understanding of how unattached kinetochores block the metaphase/anaphase transition we followed mitosis in PtK1 cells containing two independent spindles in a common cytoplasm. We found that unattached kinetochores on one spindle did not block anaphase onset in a neighboring mature metaphase spindle 20 microm away that lacked unattached kinetochores. As in cells containing a single spindle, anaphase onset occurred in the mature spindles x = 24 min after the last kinetochore attached regardless of whether the adjacent immature spindle contained one or more unattached kinetochores. These findings reveal that the inhibitory activity associated with an unattached kinetochore is functionally limited to the vicinity of the spindle containing the unattached kinetochore. We also found that once a mature spindle entered anaphase the neighboring spindle also entered anaphase x = 9 min later regardless of whether it contained monooriented chromosomes. Thus, anaphase onset in the mature spindle catalyzes a "start anaphase" reaction that spreads globally throughout the cytoplasm and overrides the inhibitory signal produced by unattached kinetochores in an adjacent spindle. Finally, we found that cleavage furrows often formed between the two independent spindles. This reveals that the presence of chromosomes and/or a spindle between two centrosomes is not a prerequisite for cleavage in vertebrate somatic cells.