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EMBO J. 2009 Dec 16;28(24):3785-98. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2009.340.

Molecular crowding affects diffusion and binding of nuclear proteins in heterochromatin and reveals the fractal organization of chromatin.

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  • 1Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit, EMBL, Heidelberg, Germany.

Abstract

The nucleus of eukaryotes is organized into functional compartments, the two most prominent being heterochromatin and nucleoli. These structures are highly enriched in DNA, proteins or RNA, and thus thought to be crowded. In vitro, molecular crowding induces volume exclusion, hinders diffusion and enhances association, but whether these effects are relevant in vivo remains unclear. Here, we establish that volume exclusion and diffusive hindrance occur in dense nuclear compartments by probing the diffusive behaviour of inert fluorescent tracers in living cells. We also demonstrate that chromatin-interacting proteins remain transiently trapped in heterochromatin due to crowding induced enhanced affinity. The kinetic signatures of these crowding consequences allow us to derive a fractal model of chromatin organization, which explains why the dynamics of soluble nuclear proteins are affected independently of their size. This model further shows that the fractal architecture differs between heterochromatin and euchromatin, and predicts that chromatin proteins use different target-search strategies in the two compartments. We propose that fractal crowding is a fundamental principle of nuclear organization, particularly of heterochromatin maintenance.

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PMID:
19927119
PMCID:
PMC2797059
DOI:
10.1038/emboj.2009.340
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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