A heterokaryon is a cell that contains multiple, genetically different nuclei. This can occur naturally, such as in the mycelium of fungi during sexual reproduction, or artificially as formed by the experimental fusion of two genetically different cells. A medical example is a heterokaryon composed of nuclei from Hurler syndrome and Hunter syndrome. Both of these diseases result in problems in mucopolysaccharide metabolism. However, a heterokaryon of nuclei from both of these diseases exhibits normal mucopolysaccharide metabolism, proving that the two syndromes affect different proteins and so can correct each other in the heterokaryon. In an experimental setting, polyethylene glycol may be applied to a culture of cells to induce the individual cells to fuse together, forming a heterokaryon.
- See heterokaryosis for a more general account of this phenomenon.
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