AskDefine | Define nucleated

Dictionary Definition

nucleated adj : having a nucleus or occurring in the nucleus; "nucleated cells" [syn: nucleate]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. past of nucleate

Derived terms


  1. Having a nucleus or nuclei.

Extensive Definition

In cell biology, the nucleus (pl. nuclei; from Latin or , "little nut" or kernel) is a membrane-enclosed organelle found in most eukaryotic cells. It contains most of the cell's genetic material, organized as multiple long linear DNA molecules in complex with a large variety of proteins, such as histones, to form chromosomes. The genes within these chromosomes are the cell's nuclear genome. The function of the nucleus is to maintain the integrity of these genes and to control the activities of the cell by regulating gene expression.
The main structures making up the nucleus are the nuclear envelope, a double membrane that encloses the entire organelle and separates its contents from the cellular cytoplasm, and the nuclear lamina, a meshwork within the nucleus that adds mechanical support, much like the cytoskeleton supports the cell as a whole. Because the nuclear membrane is impermeable to most molecules, nuclear pores are required to allow movement of molecules across the envelope. These pores cross both of the membranes, providing a channel that allows free movement of small molecules and ions. The movement of larger molecules such as proteins is carefully controlled, and requires active transport regulated by carrier proteins. Nuclear transport is crucial to cell function, as movement through the pores is required for both gene expression and chromosomal maintenance.
Although the interior of the nucleus does not contain any membrane-bound subcompartments, its contents are not uniform, and a number of subnuclear bodies exist, made up of unique proteins, RNA molecules, and particular parts of the chromosomes. The best known of these is the nucleolus, which is mainly involved in the assembly of ribosomes. After being produced in the nucleolus, ribosomes are exported to the cytoplasm where they translate mRNA.


The nucleus was the first organelle to be discovered, and was first described by Franz Bauer in 1802. It was later described in more detail by Scottish botanist Robert Brown in 1831 in a talk at the Linnean Society of London. Brown was studying orchids microscopically when he observed an opaque area, which he called the areola or nucleus, in the cells of the flower's outer layer. He did not suggest a potential function. In 1838 Matthias Schleiden proposed that the nucleus plays a role in generating cells, thus he introduced the name "Cytoblast" (cell builder). He believed that he had observed new cells assembling around "cytoblasts". Franz Meyen was a strong opponent of this view having already described cells multiplying by division and believing that many cells would have no nuclei. The idea that cells can be generated de novo, by the "cytoblast" or otherwise, contradicted work by Robert Remak (1852) and Rudolf Virchow (1855) who decisively propagated the new paradigm that cells are generated solely by cells ("Omnis cellula e cellula"). The function of the nucleus remained unclear.
Between 1876 and 1878 Oscar Hertwig published several studies on the fertilization of sea urchin eggs, showing that the nucleus of the sperm enters the oocyte and fuses with its nucleus. This was the first time it was suggested that an individual develops from a (single) nucleated cell. This was in contradiction to Ernst Haeckel's theory that the complete phylogeny of a species would be repeated during embryonic development, including generation of the first nucleated cell from a "Monerula", a structureless mass of primordial mucus ("Urschleim"). Therefore, the necessity of the sperm nucleus for fertilization was discussed for quite some time. However, Hertwig confirmed his observation in other animal groups, e.g. amphibians and molluscs. Eduard Strasburger produced the same results for plants (1884). This paved the way to assign the nucleus an important role in heredity. In 1873 August Weismann postulated the equivalence of the maternal and paternal germ cells for heredity. The function of the nucleus as carrier of genetic information became clear only later, after mitosis was discovered and the Mendelian rules were rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century; the chromosome theory of heredity was developed. In mammalian cells, the average diameter typically varies from 11 to 22 micrometers (μm) and occupies about 10% of the total volume. The viscous liquid within it is called nucleoplasm, and is similar to the cytoplasm found outside the nucleus.

Nuclear envelope and pores

The nuclear envelope consists of two cellular membranes, an inner and an outer membrane, arranged parallel to one another and separated by 10 to 50 nanometers (nm). The nuclear envelope completely encloses the nucleus and separates the cell's genetic material from the surrounding cytoplasm, serving as a barrier to prevent macromolecules from diffusing freely between the nucleoplasm and the cytoplasm. The outer nuclear membrane is continuous with the membrane of the rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER), and is similarly studded with ribosomes. The space between the membranes is called the perinuclear space and is continuous with the RER lumen.
Nuclear pores, which provide aqueous channels through the envelope, are composed of multiple proteins, collectively referred to as nucleoporins. The pores are about 125 million daltons in molecular weight and consist of around 50 (in yeast) to 100 proteins (in vertebrates). each of which contains a donut-shaped, eightfold-symmetric ring-shaped structure at a position where the inner and outer membranes fuse. Attached to the ring is a structure called the nuclear basket that extends into the nucleoplasm, and a series of filamentous extensions that reach into the cytoplasm. Both structures serve to mediate binding to nuclear transport proteins. Steroid hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone, as well as other small lipid-soluble molecules involved in intercellular signaling can diffuse through the cell membrane and into the cytoplasm, where they bind nuclear receptor proteins that are trafficked into the nucleus. There they serve as transcription factors when bound to their ligand; in the absence of ligand many such receptors function as histone deacetylases that repress gene expression. Lamins are also found inside the nucleoplasm where they form another regular structure, known as the nucleoplasmic veil, that is visible using fluorescence microscopy. The actual function of the veil is not clear, although it is excluded from the nucleolus and is present during interphase. The lamin structures that make up the veil bind chromatin and disrupting their structure inhibits transcription of protein-coding genes.
Like the components of other intermediate filaments, the lamin monomer contains an alpha-helical domain used by two monomers to coil around each other, forming a dimer structure called a coiled coil. Two of these dimer structures then join side by side, in an antiparallel arrangement, to form a tetramer called a protofilament. Eight of these protofilaments form a lateral arrangement that is twisted to form a ropelike filament. These filaments can be assembled or disassembled in a dynamic manner, meaning that changes in the length of the filament depend on the competing rates of filament addition and removal.


The cell nucleus contains the majority of the cell's genetic material, in the form of multiple linear DNA molecules organized into structures called chromosomes. During most of the cell cycle these are organized in a DNA-protein complex known as chromatin, and during cell division the chromatin can be seen to form the well defined chromosomes familiar from a karyotype. A small fraction of the cell's genes are located instead in the mitochondria.
There are two types of chromatin. Euchromatin is the less compact DNA form, and contains genes that are frequently expressed by the cell. The other type, heterochromatin, is the more compact form, and contains DNA that are infrequently transcribed. This structure is further categorized into facultative heterochromatin, consisting of genes that are organized as heterochromatin only in certain cell types or at certain stages of development, and constitutive heterochromatin that consists of chromosome structural components such as telomeres and centromeres. During interphase the chromatin organizes itself into discrete individual patches, called chromosome territories. Active genes, which are generally found in the euchromatic region of the chromosome, tend to be located towards the chromosome's territory boundary.
Antibodies to certain types of chromatin organization, particularly nucleosomes, have been associated with a number of autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus. These are known as anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA) and have also been observed in concert with multiple sclerosis as part of general immune system dysfunction. As in the case of progeria, the role played by the antibodies in inducing the symptoms of autoimmune diseases is not obvious.


The nucleolus is a discrete densely-stained structure found in the nucleus. It is not surrounded by a membrane, and is sometimes called a suborganelle. It forms around tandem repeats of rDNA, DNA coding for ribosomal RNA (rRNA). These regions are called nucleolar organizer regions (NOR). The main roles of the nucleolus are to synthesize rRNA and assemble ribosomes. The structural cohesion of the nucleolus depends on its activity, as ribosomal assembly in the nucleolus results in the transient association of nucleolar components, facilitating further ribosomal assembly, and hence further association. This model is supported by observations that inactivation of rDNA results in intermingling of nucleolar structures.
The first step in ribosomal assembly is transcription of the rDNA, by a protein called RNA polymerase I, forming a large pre-rRNA precursor. This is cleaved into the subunits 5.8S, 18S, and 28S rRNA. The transcription, post-transcriptional processing, and assembly of rRNA occurs in the nucleolus, aided by small nucleolar RNA (snoRNA) molecules, some of which are derived from spliced introns from messenger RNAs encoding genes related to ribosomal function. The assembled ribosomal subunits are the largest structures passed through the nuclear pores. |- | PIKA || 5 µm |- | PML bodies|| 0.2–1.0 µm |- | Paraspeckles|| 0.2–1.0 µm |- | Speckles || 20–25 nm

Cajal bodies and gems

A nucleus typically contains between 1 and 10 compact structures called Cajal bodies or coiled bodies (CB), whose diameter measures between 0.2 µm and 2.0 µm depending on the cell type and species. CBs are involved in a number of different roles relating to RNA processing, specifically small nucleolar RNA (snoRNA) and small nuclear RNA (snRNA) maturation, and histone mRNA modification. though it has also been suggested from microscopy evidence that CBs and gems are different manifestations of the same structure. They have been found to often associate with discrete domains defined by dense localization of the transcription factor PTF, which promotes transcription of snRNA.

PML bodies

Promyelocytic leukaemia bodies (PML bodies) are spherical bodies found scattered throughout the nucleoplasm, measuring around 0.2–1.0 µm. They are known by a number of other names, including nuclear domain 10 (ND10), Kremer bodies, and PML oncogenic domains. They are often seen in the nucleus in association with Cajal bodies and cleavage bodies. It has been suggested that they play a role in regulating transcription. paraspeckles are now known to also exist in all human primary cells, transformed cell lines and tissue sections. Their name is derived from their distribution in the nucleus; the "para" is short for parallel and the "speckles" refers to the splicing speckles to which they are always in close proximity.


The main function of the cell nucleus is to control gene expression and mediate the replication of DNA during the cell cycle. The nucleus provides a site for genetic transcription that is segregated from the location of translation in the cytoplasm, allowing levels of gene regulation that are not available to prokaryotes.

Cell compartmentalization

The nuclear envelope allows the nucleus to control its contents, and separate them from the rest of the cytoplasm where necessary. This is important for controlling processes on either side of the nuclear membrane. In some cases where a cytoplasmic process needs to be restricted, a key participant is removed to the nucleus, where it interacts with transcription factors to downregulate the production of certain enzymes in the pathway. This regulatory mechanism occurs in the case of glycolysis, a cellular pathway for breaking down glucose to produce energy. Hexokinase is an enzyme responsible for the first the step of glycolysis, forming glucose-6-phosphate from glucose. At high concentrations of fructose-6-phosphate, a molecule made later from glucose-6-phosphate, a regulator protein removes hexokinase to the nucleus, where it forms a transcriptional repressor complex with nuclear proteins to reduce the expression of genes involved in glycolysis.
In order to control which genes are being transcribed, the cell separates some transcription factor proteins responsible for regulating gene expression from physical access to the DNA until they are activated by other signaling pathways. This prevents even low levels of inappropriate gene expression. For example in the case of NF-κB-controlled genes, which are involved in most inflammatory responses, transcription is induced in response to a signal pathway such as that initiated by the signaling molecule TNF-α, binds to a cell membrane receptor, resulting in the recruitment of signalling proteins, and eventually activating the transcription factor NF-κB. A nuclear localisation signal on the NF-κB protein allows it to be transported through the nuclear pore and into the nucleus, where it stimulates the transcription of the target genes. Eukaryotic mRNA contains introns that must be removed before being translated to produce functional proteins. The splicing is done inside the nucleus before the mRNA can be accessed by ribosomes for translation. Without the nucleus ribosomes would translate newly transcribed (unprocessed) mRNA resulting in misformed and nonfunctional proteins.

Gene expression

Gene expression first involves transcription, in which DNA is used as a template to produce RNA. In the case of genes encoding proteins, that RNA produced from this process is messenger RNA (mRNA), which then needs to be translated by ribosomes to form a protein. As ribosomes are located outside the nucleus, mRNA produced needs to be exported.
Since the nucleus is the site of transcription, it also contains a variety of proteins which either directly mediate transcription or are involved in regulating the process. These proteins include helicases that unwind the double-stranded DNA molecule to facilitate access to it, RNA polymerases that synthesize the growing RNA molecule, topoisomerases that change the amount of supercoiling in DNA, helping it wind and unwind, as well as a large variety of transcription factors that regulate expression.

Processing of pre-mRNA

Newly synthesized mRNA molecules are known as primary transcripts or pre-mRNA. They must undergo post-transcriptional modification in the nucleus before being exported to the cytoplasm; mRNA that appears in the nucleus without these modifications is degraded rather than used for protein translation. The three main modifications are 5' capping, 3' polyadenylation, and RNA splicing. While in the nucleus, pre-mRNA is associated with a variety of proteins in complexes known as heterogeneous ribonucleoprotein particles (hnRNPs). Addition of the 5' cap occurs co-transcriptionally and is the first step in post-transcriptional modification. The 3' poly-adenine tail is only added after transcription is complete.
RNA splicing, carried out by a complex called the spliceosome, is the process by which introns, or regions of DNA that do not code for protein, are removed from the pre-mRNA and the remaining exons connected to re-form a single continuous molecule. This process normally occurs after 5' capping and 3' polyadenylation but can begin before synthesis is complete in transcripts with many exons. macromolecules such as RNA and proteins require association karyopherins called importins to enter the nucleus and exportins to exit. "Cargo" proteins that must be translocated from the cytoplasm to the nucleus contain short amino acid sequences known as nuclear localization signals which are bound by importins, while those transported from the nucleus to the cytoplasm carry nuclear export signals bound by exportins. The ability of importins and exportins to transport their cargo is regulated by GTPases, enzymes that hydrolyze the molecule guanosine triphosphate to release energy. The key GTPase in nuclear transport is Ran, which can bind either GTP or GDP (guanosine diphosphate) depending on whether it is located in the nucleus or the cytoplasm. Whereas importins depend on RanGTP to dissociate from their cargo, exportins require RanGTP in order to bind to their cargo. Therefore the early stages in the cell cycle, beginning in prophase and until around prometaphase, the nuclear membrane is dismantled. Towards the end of the cell cycle, the nuclear membrane is reformed, and around the same time, the nuclear lamina are reassembled by dephosphorylating the lamins.
The nuclear envelope acts as a barrier that prevents both DNA and RNA viruses from entering the nucleus. Some viruses require access to proteins inside the nucleus in order to replicate and/or assemble. DNA viruses, such as herpesvirus replicate and assemble in the cell nucleus, and exit by budding through the inner nuclear membrane. This process is accompanied by disassembly of the lamina on the nuclear face of the inner membrane. The presence of mutagens may induce the release of some immature "micronucleated" erythrocytes into the bloodstream. Anucleated cells can also arise from flawed cell division in which one daughter lacks a nucleus and the other is binucleate.
Polynucleated cells contain multiple nuclei. Most Acantharean species of protozoa and some fungi in mycorrhizae have naturally polynucleated cells. In humans, skeletal muscle cells, called myocytes, become polynucleated during development; the resulting arrangement of nuclei near the periphery of the cells allows maximal intracellular space for myofibrils. and are also implicated in tumor formation.


As the major defining characteristic of the eukaryotic cell, the nucleus' evolutionary origin has been the subject of much speculation. Four major theories have been proposed to explain the existence of the nucleus, although none have yet earned widespread support.
The theory known as the "syntrophic model" proposes that a symbiotic relationship between the archaea and bacteria created the nucleus-containing eukaryotic cell. It is hypothesized that the symbiosis originated when ancient archaea, similar to modern methanogenic archaea, invaded and lived within bacteria similar to modern myxobacteria, eventually forming the early nucleus. This theory is analogous to the accepted theory for the origin of eukaryotic mitochondria and chloroplasts, which are thought to have developed from a similar endosymbiotic relationship between proto-eukaryotes and aerobic bacteria. The archaeal origin of the nucleus is supported by observations that archaea and eukarya have similar genes for certain proteins, including histones. Observations that myxobacteria are motile, can form multicellular complexes, and possess kinases and G proteins similar to eukarya, support a bacterial origin for the eukaryotic cell.
A second model proposes that proto-eukaryotic cells evolved from bacteria without an endosymbiotic stage. This model is based on the existence of modern planctomycetes bacteria that possess a nuclear structure with primitive pores and other compartmentalized membrane structures. A similar proposal states that a eukaryote-like cell, the chronocyte, evolved first and phagocytosed archaea and bacteria to generate the nucleus and the eukaryotic cell.
The most controversial model, known as viral eukaryogenesis, posits that the membrane-bound nucleus, along with other eukaryotic features, originated from the infection of a prokaryote by a virus. The suggestion is based on similarities between eukaryotes and viruses such as linear DNA strands, mRNA capping, and tight binding to proteins (analogizing histones to viral envelopes). One version of the proposal suggests that the nucleus evolved in concert with phagocytosis to form an early cellular "predator". Another variant proposes that eukaryotes originated from early archaea infected by poxviruses, on the basis of observed similarity between the DNA polymerases in modern poxviruses and eukaryotes. It has been suggested that the unresolved question of the evolution of sex could be related to the viral eukaryogenesis hypothesis.
Finally, a very recent proposal suggests that traditional variants of the endosymbiont theory are insufficiently powerful to explain the origin of the eukaryotic nucleus. This model, termed the exomembrane hypothesis, suggests that the nucleus instead originated from a single ancestral cell that evolved a second exterior cell membrane; the interior membrane enclosing the original cell then became the nuclear membrane and evolved increasingly elaborate pore structures for passage of internally synthesized cellular components such as ribosomal subunits.


Further reading

A review article about nuclear lamins, explaining their structure and various roles
A review article about nuclear transport, explains the principles of the mechanism, and the various transport pathways
A review article about the nucleus, explaining the structure of chromosomes within the organelle, and describing the nucleolus and other subnuclear bodies
A review article about the evolution of the nucleus, explaining a number of different theories
A university level textbook focusing on cell biology. Contains information on nucleus structure and function, including nuclear transport, and subnuclear domains

External links

Gallery of nucleus images

nucleated in Afrikaans: Selkern
nucleated in Arabic: نواة (خلية)
nucleated in Bosnian: Jedro (biologija)
nucleated in Bulgarian: Клетъчно ядро
nucleated in Catalan: Nucli cel·lular
nucleated in Czech: Buněčné jádro
nucleated in Welsh: Cnewyllyn
nucleated in Danish: Cellekerne
nucleated in German: Zellkern
nucleated in Estonian: Rakutuum
nucleated in Spanish: Núcleo celular
nucleated in Esperanto: Ĉelkerno
nucleated in Persian: هسته یاخته
nucleated in French: Noyau (biologie)
nucleated in Galician: Núcleo celular
nucleated in Korean: 세포핵
nucleated in Croatian: Stanična jezgra
nucleated in Indonesian: Inti sel
nucleated in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Nucleo (biologia)
nucleated in Icelandic: Frumukjarni
nucleated in Italian: Nucleo cellulare
nucleated in Hebrew: גרעין התא
nucleated in Latvian: Šūnas kodols
nucleated in Luxembourgish: Zellkär
nucleated in Lithuanian: Ląstelės branduolys
nucleated in Hungarian: Sejtmag
nucleated in Macedonian: Клеточно јадро
nucleated in Malay (macrolanguage): Nukleus
nucleated in Dutch: Celkern
nucleated in Japanese: 細胞核
nucleated in Norwegian: Cellekjerne
nucleated in Occitan (post 1500): Nuclèu (biologia)
nucleated in Oromo: Cell nucleus
nucleated in Polish: Jądro komórkowe
nucleated in Portuguese: Núcleo celular
nucleated in Romanian: Nucleul celulei
nucleated in Russian: Клеточное ядро
nucleated in Simple English: Cell nucleus
nucleated in Slovak: Bunkové jadro
nucleated in Slovenian: Celično jedro
nucleated in Serbian: Једро
nucleated in Serbo-Croatian: Jezgra (stanica)
nucleated in Finnish: Tuma
nucleated in Swedish: Cellkärna
nucleated in Thai: นิวเคลียสเซลล์
nucleated in Turkish: Hücre çekirdeği
nucleated in Ukrainian: Клітинне ядро
nucleated in Chinese: 细胞核
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