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Biophys J. 2013 Feb 5;104(3):553-64. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2012.12.033.

Correlated spatio-temporal fluctuations in chromatin compaction states characterize stem cells.

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  • 1Mechanobiology Institute and Department of Biological Sciences, NUS, Singapore.


Stem cells integrate signals from the microenvironment to generate lineage-specific gene expression programs upon differentiation. Undifferentiated cell nuclei are easily deformable, with an active transcriptome, whereas differentiated cells have stiffer nuclei and condensed chromatin. Chromatin organization in the stem cell state is known to be highly dynamic but quantitative characterizations of its plasticity are lacking. Using fluorescence imaging, we study the spatio-temporal dynamics of nuclear architecture and chromatin compaction in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells and differentiated states. Individual ES cells exhibit a relatively narrow variation in chromatin compaction, whereas primary mouse embryonic fibroblasts (PMEF) show broad distributions. However, spatial correlations in chromatin compaction exhibit an emergent length scale in PMEFs, although they are unstructured and longer ranged in ES cells. We provide evidence for correlated fluctuations with large amplitude and long intrinsic timescales, including an oscillatory component, in both chromatin compaction and nuclear area in ES cells. Such fluctuations are largely frozen in PMEF. The role of actin and Lamin A/C in modulating these fluctuations is described. A simple theoretical formulation reproduces the observed dynamics. Our results suggest that, in addition to nuclear plasticity, correlated spatio-temporal structural fluctuations of chromatin in undifferentiated cells characterize the stem cell state.

Copyright © 2013 Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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