Background: Structural studies of fixed cells have revealed that interphase chromosomes are highly organized into specific arrangements in the nucleus, and have led to a picture of the nucleus as a static structure with immobile chromosomes held in fixed positions, an impression apparently confirmed by recent photobleaching studies. Functional studies of chromosome behavior, however, suggest that many essential processes, such as recombination, require interphase chromosomes to move around within the nucleus.
Results: To reconcile these contradictory views, we exploited methods for tagging specific chromosome sites in living cells of Saccharomyces cerevisiae with green fluorescent protein and in Drosophila melanogaster with fluorescently labeled topoisomerase II. Combining these techniques with submicrometer single-particle tracking, we directly measured the motion of interphase chromatin, at high resolution and in three dimensions. We found that chromatin does indeed undergo significant diffusive motion within the nucleus, but this motion is constrained such that a given chromatin segment is free to move within only a limited subregion of the nucleus. Chromatin diffusion was found to be insensitive to metabolic inhibitors, suggesting that it results from classical Brownian motion rather than from active motility. Nocodazole greatly reduced chromatin confinement, suggesting a role for the cytoskeleton in the maintenance of nuclear architecture.
Conclusions: We conclude that chromatin is free to undergo substantial Brownian motion, but that a given chromatin segment is confined to a subregion of the nucleus. This constrained diffusion is consistent with a highly defined nuclear architecture, but also allows enough motion for processes requiring chromosome motility to take place. These results lead to a model for the regulation of chromosome interactions by nuclear architecture.