Cytochemistry of the functional domains of the nucleus in normal and in pathologic conditions

N. M. Maraldi, N. Zini, S. Santi, A. Ognibene, R. Rizzoli, G. Mazzotti, F. A. Manzoli

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By means of ultrastructural cytochemistry significant advances have been made in understanding the functional roles of many nuclear domains. This review gives schematic information about the main nuclear domains involved in replication, transcription, processing and transport of the transcripts in normal and in pathologic conditions. Particular attention is paid to a functional domain that appears to be involved in signal transduction. Data are reported on the intranuclear specific localization of key elements of the polyphosphoinositide signal transduction system in different cell types including human osteosarcoma cell lines. Compared with the compartmentalization of the cytoplasm, the nucleus has long been considered as relatively unstructured. On the other hand, fundamental nuclear functions, such as DNA replication and RNA transcription, can be molecularly characterized also in cell-free systems, suggesting that supramolecular organization is not so strictly required as for other cell functions occurring within intact cytoplasmic organelles. Nevertheless, a stringent organization is required for packing about 200 cm of DNA in the about 30 μm3 of the nucleus. In the absence of membrane-delimited organelles, the nuclear organization is based on functional compartments, or domains, whose spatial localization involves the nuclear matrix, which shares many properties with the cytoskeleton. The nuclear domains are defined as structural compartments, not necessarily stable but dynamically variable, which perform specific metabolic functions through the partitioning of molecular complexes. Their identification has been made possible in the last few years by the development of specific nuclear probes for confocal and electron microscope immunocytochemistry. Therefore, the complex network of structures and enzymatic functions that make up the nucleus is in several cases yielding to molecular analysis, but a large part remains unknown (Strouboulis and Wolffe, 1996; Laemmli and Tjian, 1996). Rapid advances in understanding the functional role of the nuclear domains have been made recently: in particular, of the nuclear envelope, of the nucleolus, and of RNA splicing. In other cases, e.g. the precise localization of the nuclear domains involved in signal transduction, much remains to be clarified (Forbes and Johnson, 1997). It is conceivable that in the near future unexpected new nuclear domains will come to light and new nuclear functions may emerge, especially in the field of post-transcriptional processing and transport of RNAs, and in the relationships between the nucleoskeleton and enzymic fixed sites involved in replication, transcription and signal transduction. The aim of this review is to provide information about the morphological characteristics, the associated functions and the molecular composition of the main nuclear domains found to date. To simplify the exposition, the main data on each nuclear domain are reported in Tables, together with the principal references on the subject. Figures refer to original findings on some aspects of nuclear domain organization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-53
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean journal of histochemistry : EJH
Issue numberSPEC. ISS.
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Human osteosarcoma
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Nuclear domains
  • Pathologic alterations
  • Signal transduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Anatomy


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