For the first time, scientists 'see' dual-layered scaffolding of cellular nuclei

February 11, 2019, University of Pittsburgh
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Our cells sometimes have to squeeze through pretty tight spaces. And when they do, the nuclei inside must go along for the ride. Using super-sensitive microscopic imaging, a team of scientists from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have made a fundamental biological discovery that explains the structure of the nuclear envelope and gives tantalizing clues as to how cells squish through narrow openings without springing a leak.

The findings, which also could be key to untangling the mechanisms underlying several , are described today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's quite the serendipitous discovery," said Quasar Padiath, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., associate professor in the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health's Department of Human Genetics and one of the senior authors on the research. "Just like everyone else, I thought we knew how the cellular nuclear envelope was organized, but as we took a closer look while investigating a genetic condition, we found that there was far more to the story."

Every animal cell contains a nucleus, home to the majority of its genetic material. Lining the interior of the membrane encasing the nucleus is the nuclear lamina, a scaffold that gives the nucleus its spherical structure. Scientists had previously shown the lamina to be formed by a tangled meshwork of filaments, made up of proteins called lamin A and B.

Padiath teamed up with Yang Liu, Ph.D., associate professor in Pitt's departments of medicine and bioengineering, to take a closer look at the nuclear lamina because people with a fatal genetic condition he studies—autosomal dominant leukodystrophy with autonomic disease (ADLD) - have extra copies of the gene that codes for lamin B1, a subtype of lamin B. The scientists first looked at the lamina in using a super-resolution imaging technique called "stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy" (STORM).

To their surprise, the team discovered that there are actually two distinct meshworks—an outer, more loosely woven layer of lamin B and an inner, tighter layer of lamin A.

Using super-sensitive microscopic imaging, a team of scientists made a fundamental biological discovery that explains the structure of the nuclear envelope and gives tantalizing clues as to how cells squish through narrow openings without springing a leak. Credit: UPMC
"It is truly remarkable that STORM is able to visualize such a microscopically small separation between lamin A and B1," said Liu, who also is a researcher at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. "That has never been seen with conventional light microscopy."

Padiath's team then built on an ongoing partnership with Kris Dahl, Ph.D., a Carnegie Mellon University professor of chemical engineering who studies the mechanics and architecture of nuclear membranes, to learn about how the lamin layers function. By imaging nuclei under varying degrees of pressure, the scientists discovered that when a cell is compressed, the outer, more loosely woven lamin B1 layer thins, allowing the lamin A layer to bulge out at the axes of the nucleus.

"For me, this process is similar to one of my knitting projects," said Dahl. "Based on the holes between the stitches and the thickness of the yarn, you can predict the stiffness of the material."

The scientists believe their observations indicate that the distinct lamin layers are part of a necessary cellular system: When functioning correctly, it allows nuclei to relieve pressure when compressed by biologic functions—such as moving within a very thin blood vessel or squeezing through a narrow opening—to avoid damage to the nucleus itself.

In the disease that Padiath studies—ADLD—patients typically live into their 40s and 50s before experiencing symptoms tied to fatal brain degradation. Because ADLD involves extra copies of the lamin B1 gene, Padiath's future work will explore how excessive lamin B could negatively impact brain cells at middle age.

"Now that we can look at the nuclear architecture in such exquisite detail, we can start asking, 'How does it change in ADLD and other lamina diseases, particularly with aging?'" Padiath said.

Explore further: Organizing a cell's genetic material from the sidelines

More information: Bruce Nmezi el al., "Concentric model predicts distinct roles for the A and B type lamins in the spatial organization and stability of the nuclear lamina," PNAS (2019). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1810070116

Related Stories

Organizing a cell's genetic material from the sidelines

June 28, 2018

A tremendous amount of genetic material must be packed into the nucleus of every cell—a tiny compartment. One of the biggest challenges in biology is to understand how certain regions of this highly packaged DNA can be ...

Lamin B locks up Oct-1

January 12, 2009

A large fraction of the transcription factor Oct-1 is associated with the inner nuclear envelope, but how and why it is retained there was unknown.

Recommended for you

Observation of quantized heating in quantum matter

February 19, 2019

Shaking a physical system typically heats it up, in the sense that the system continuously absorbs energy. When considering a circular shaking pattern, the amount of energy that is absorbed can potentially depend on the orientation ...

Sound waves let quantum systems 'talk' to one another

February 18, 2019

Researchers at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory have invented an innovative way for different types of quantum technology to "talk" to each other using sound. The study, published Feb. 11 in Nature ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Surveillance_Egg_Unit
1 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2019
Excellent research. It goes to show how well done was the programming of cells to follow the Natural Order of Life since the creation of the very first cells in the water of Earth about a billion years ago. Each cell is a Living Machine, and of that there can be no doubt.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2019
I am not sure " without springing a leak" is the correct description since there is a double membrane lining the scaffold, but "to avoid damage to the nucleus" seems more like it.

@SOU: The natural process that we have known for *two centuries* life has obeyed - for 4 billion years to boot - is nothing like what you suggest.

It is nice of you to be interested in research, but most people know about how nature makes life from school (or they slept through it). Or at least they know enough not to make claims that show they know exactly nothing of a subject. Here are links to get you started: process of evolution https://en.wikipe...volution , timeline of evolution https://www.natur...8-0644-x .
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
1 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2019
I should add that the nucleus specifically evolved some 2 billion years ago [see the timeline; endosymbiosis is a proxy for the feature] since the eukaryote common ancestor evolved at that time. Cells with nucleus is a one off evolved trait, which the long delay underscore, it is likely not as common as life is in the universe. (Everything else alike it currently looks like about 40/2000 or 2 % of inhabited planets older than 2 billion years would have evolved it assuming its evolution once constrain it evolving anew.)

So of course there were no proper nuclear genes before that, they were exaptated or evolved de novo then or later as the trait evolved.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.