Nuclei are intricately structured, and nuclear metabolism has an elaborate spatial organization. The architecture of the nucleus includes two overlapping and nucleic-acid-containing structures - chromatin and a nuclear matrix. The nuclear matrix is observed by microscopy in live, fixed and extracted cells. Its ultrastructure and composition show it to be, in large part, the ribonucleoprotein (RNP) network first seen in unfractionated cells more than 30 years ago. At that time, the discovery of this RNP structure explained surprising observations that RNA, packaged in proteins, is attached to an intranuclear, non-chromatin structure. Periodic and specific attachments of chromatin fibers to the nuclear matrix create the chromatin loop domains that can be directly observed by microscopy or inferred from biochemical experiments. The ultrastructure of the nuclear matrix is well characterized and consists of a nuclear lamina and an internal nuclear network of subassemblies linked together by highly structured fibers. These complex fibers are built on an underlying scaffolding of branched 10-nm filaments that connect to the nuclear lamina. The structural proteins of the nuclear lamina have been well characterized, but the structural biochemistry of the internal nuclear matrix has received less attention. Many internal matrix proteins have been identified, but far less is known about how these proteins assemble to make the fibers, filaments and other assemblies of the internal nuclear matrix. Correcting this imbalance will require the combined application of biochemistry and electron microscopy. The central problem in trying to define nuclear matrix structure is to identify the proteins that assemble into the 10-nm filaments upon which the interior architecture of the nucleus is constructed. Only by achieving a biochemical characterization of the nuclear matrix will we advance beyond simple microscopic observations of structure to a better understanding of nuclear matrix function, regulation and post-mitotic assembly.
- © 2001 by Company of Biologists