A nuclear membrane, also known as the nuclear envelope, nucleolemma or karyotheca, is the double lipid bilayer membrane which surrounds the genetic material and nucleolus in eukaryotic cells.
The nuclear membrane consists of two lipid bilayers—the inner nuclear membrane, and the outer nuclear membrane. The space between the membranes is called the perinuclear space, a region contiguous with the lumen (inside) of the endoplasmic reticulum. It is usually about 20–40 nm wide.
The outer nuclear membrane is also contiguous with the endoplasmic reticulum. While it is physically linked, the outer nuclear membrane contains various proteins found in far higher concentrations than the endoplasmic reticulum.
The inner nuclear membrane encloses the nucleoplasm, and is covered by the nuclear lamina, a mesh of intermediate filaments which stabilizes the nuclear membrane as well as being involved in chromatin function and entire expression. It is connected to the outer membrane by nuclear pores which penetrate the membranes. While the two membranes and the endoplasmic reticulum are linked, proteins embedded in the membranes tend to stay put rather than dispersing across the continuum.
The nuclear membrane is punctured by thousands of nuclear pore complexes—large hollow proteins about 100 nm across, with an inner channel about 40 nm wide. They link the inner and outer nuclear membranes.
During the G2 phase of interphase, the nuclear membrane increases its surface area and doubles its number of nuclear pore complexes.
In lower eukaryotes, such as yeast, which undergo closed mitosis, the nuclear membrane stays intact during cell division. The spindle fibers either form within the membrane, or penetrate it without tearing it apart.
In higher eukaryotes (animals), as well as plants, the nuclear membrane must break down during the prometaphase state of mitosis to allow the mitotic spindle fibers to access the chromosomes inside. The breakdown and reformation processes are not well understood.
In mammals, the nuclear membrane can break down within minutes, following a set of steps.
First, nucleoporin polypeptides are selectively removed from the nuclear pore complexes. After that, the rest of the nuclear pore complexes break apart at the same time. Biochemical evidence suggests that the nuclear pore complexes disassemble into stable pieces rather than disintegrating into small polypeptide fragments.
Electron and fluorescence microscopy has given strong evidence that the nuclear membrane is absorbed by the endoplasmic reticulum—nuclear proteins not normally found in the endoplasmic reticulum show up during mitosis.
- Vesicle fusion—where vesicles of nuclear membrane fuse together to rebuild the nuclear membrane
- Reshaping of the endoplasmic reticulum—where the parts of the endoplasmic reticulum containing the absorbed nuclear membrane envelop the nuclear space, reforming a closed membrane.
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- BU Histology Learning System: 20102loa
- Animations of nuclear pores and transport through the nuclear envelope
- Illustrations of nuclear pores and transport through the nuclear membrane
- Nuclear membrane at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)