Scientists Get the Drop on the Cell’s Nucleus

Using a super innovative strategy, scientists at New York University say they’ve have managed to measure components and physical properties of the human nucleus. They say this method could shed more light into what goes on inside unhealthy cells, those in neural regenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

The study reveals astonishing facts about that the human nucleoli, one of them being that it behaves like liquid droplets.

Why is this a Big Deal?


What happens inside the human cell, despite its microscopic size, directly imparts biological processes. The nucleic constituents and its material properties dictate how DNA information is read, transcribed to RNA, and how DNA molecules get translated to proteins.

To be precise, the degree of thickness of the solution found insides a living cell nucleus (what is called viscosity of the nucleoplasm,) influences the speed of organelles and molecules, as well as how far they go inside the nucleus. So looking at this, scientist say they have observed a material property change in various human diseases.

However, the problem has been how to measure the observed variation. Previous efforts relied on a cell’s response to stymied – which offers little insight.

Decoding the Cell Nucleus


To overcome the hurdles in previous methods, the study used naturally cellular dynamics occurring events inside the cell’s nucleus, to understand its constituents and physical properties.

The strategy is non-invasive, which makes it one of a kind, allowing a safer avenue for decoding the nucleus. Alexandra Zidovska, a physicist at NYU, and first author in the research, also says this approach of studying cells would have a significant influence on diseases diagnosis and therapy.

The work, which also appears in the latest issue of Physical Review Letters (PRL) involved other researchers such as Christina Caragine and Shannon Haley. Caragine being a doctoral student at NYU, and Haley, a Science and Arts undergraduate at NYU’s College.

A Glimpse into the New Method

The team deployed an imaging technique with two-color high-pixel rotating disc microscopy – this was able to record temporal and spatial behavior in the cells. Top on that, the strategy allowed monitoring of aspects such as shape change of the nucleoli, fusion and other noticeable fluctuations of the cell’s surface.

In the natural, it’s impossible to know when and where exactly fusion takes in a human cell. It occurs only a few times in the life of a cell, so to be able to spot it, your focus must be on the right place at the right time.

But remarkably, Zidovska and team, using their method, are now able to capture these cell fusion events. And being a non-invasive approach, it doesn’t disrupt normal cellular activity, meaning the observations stand being consistent and can be relied on, in generating medical suppositions.

The Take-Away Summary

The first conclusion made was that the human nucleoli exist like liquid droplets. Second, the nucleoplasm around these nucleolar droplets are extremely thick and viscous – relatively 100 times more viscid than honey, and that in healthy cells, this is what slackens coalescence of the nucleolar droplets.

Understanding to the depth the forces that trigger these changes, precisely the differences in viscosity in nucleus and nucleolus, would help researchers better investigate what exactly transpires inside diseased cells, comparing that to healthy cells.