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Theor Biol Med Model. 2007 Apr 12;4:15.

Can visco-elastic phase separation, macromolecular crowding and colloidal physics explain nuclear organisation?

Author information

1
MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headington, Oxford, UK. Francisco.Iborra@imm.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The cell nucleus is highly compartmentalized with well-defined domains, it is not well understood how this nuclear order is maintained. Many scientists are fascinated by the different set of structures observed in the nucleus to attribute functions to them. In order to distinguish functional compartments from non-functional aggregates, I believe is important to investigate the biophysical nature of nuclear organisation.

RESULTS:

The various nuclear compartments can be divided broadly as chromatin or protein and/or RNA based, and they have very different dynamic properties. The chromatin compartment displays a slow, constrained diffusional motion. On the other hand, the protein/RNA compartment is very dynamic. Physical systems with dynamical asymmetry go to viscoelastic phase separation. This phase separation phenomenon leads to the formation of a long-lived interaction network of slow components (chromatin) scattered within domains rich in fast components (protein/RNA). Moreover, the nucleus is packed with macromolecules in the order of 300 mg/ml. This high concentration of macromolecules produces volume exclusion effects that enhance attractive interactions between macromolecules, known as macromolecular crowding, which favours the formation of compartments. In this paper I hypothesise that nuclear compartmentalization can be explained by viscoelastic phase separation of the dynamically different nuclear components, in combination with macromolecular crowding and the properties of colloidal particles.

CONCLUSION:

I demonstrate that nuclear structure can satisfy the predictions of this hypothesis. I discuss the functional implications of this phenomenon.

PMID:
17430588
PMCID:
PMC1853075
DOI:
10.1186/1742-4682-4-15
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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