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Int Rev Cytol. 2002;219:199-266.

Conventional and nonconventional roles of the nucleolus.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson 39216, USA.


As the most prominent of subnuclear structures, the nucleolus has a well-established role in ribosomal subunit assembly. Additional nucleolar functions, not related to ribosome biogenesis, have been discovered within the last decade. Built around multiple copies of the genes for preribosomal RNA (rDNA), nucleolar structure is largely dependent on the process of ribosome assembly. The nucleolus is disassembled during mitosis at which time preribosomal RNA transcription and processing are suppressed; it is reassembled at the end of mitosis in part from components preserved from the previous cell cycle. Expression of preribosomal RNA (pre-rRNA) is regulated by the silencing of individual rDNA genes via alterations in chromatin structure or by controlling RNA polymerase I initiation complex formation. Preribosomal RNA processing and posttranscriptional modifications are guided by a multitude of small nucleolar RNAs. Nearly completed ribosomal subunits are exported to the cytoplasm by an established nuclear export system with the aid of specialized adapter molecules. Some preribosomal and nucleolar components are transiently localized in Cajal bodies, presumably for modification or assembly. The nonconventional functions of nucleolus include roles in viral infections, nuclear export, sequestration of regulatory molecules, modification of small RNAs, RNP assembly, and control of aging, although some of these functions are not well established. Additional progress in defining the mechanisms of each step in ribosome biogenesis as well as clarification of the precise role of the nucleolus in nonconventional activities is expected in the next decade.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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