Cajal bodies (CBs) are spherical sub-organelles of 0.3-1.0 µm in diameter found in the nucleus of proliferative cells like embryonic cells and tumor cells, or metabolically active cells like neurons. In contrast to cytoplasmic organelles, CBs lack any phospholipid membrane which would separate their content, largely consisting of proteins and RNA, from the surrounding nucleoplasm. They were first reported by Santiago Ramón y Cajal in 1903, who called them nucleolar accessory bodies due to their association with the nucleoli in neuronal cells. They were rediscovered by electron microscopists and named coiled bodies, according to their appearance as coiled threads on EM images, and later renamed after their discoverer. Research on CBs was accelerated after discovery and cloning of the marker protein p80/Coilin. CBs have been implicated in RNA-related metabolic processes such as snRNPs biogenesis, maturation and recycling, histone mRNA processing and telomere maintenance. CBs assemble RNA which is used by telomerase to add nucleotides to the ends of telomeres.
CBs were initially discovered by neurobiologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal in 1903 as small argyrophilic spots in nuclei of silver-stained neuronal cells. Because of their close association with nucleoli he named them nucleolar accessory bodies. Later on, they were forgotten and rediscovered multiple times independently which led to a state where scientists from different research fields used different names for the same structure. Names used for CBs included "spere organelles", "Binnenkörper", "nucelolar bodies" or "coiled bodies". The name coiled bodies comes from observation of electron microscopists Monneron and Bernhard. They described bodies as aggregates composed of coiled threads with thickness of 400-600 Å. When using higher magnification, they appear as tiny, 50 Å thick fibrils irregularly twisted along the axis of the threads. The bodies were even predicted to consist of ribonucleoproteins since treatment of cells with protease and RNase together, but not alone, caused dramatic changes to the structure of CBs.
Cajal bodies are only found in nuclei of plant, yeast, and animal cells. The cells are usually demonstrating high levels of transcriptional activity, including cells that are rapidly dividing.
CBs and cell cycle
They are about 0.1-2.0 micrometres and are found one to five per nucleus. The number varies in different types of cells and over the cell cycle. Maximum number is reached in mid G1 phase and towards G2 they become larger and their number decreases. CBs disassemble during the M phase and reappear again later in G1 phase. Cajal bodies are possibly sites of assembly or modification of the transcription machinery of the nucleus.
CBs are bound to the nucleolus by coilin proteins. P80-coilin is a specific marker for coiled bodies, and demonstrates these bodies tend to be associated with the nucleolus when cells are not dividing.
CBs contain high concentrations of splicing small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs), possibly indicating that they function to modify RNA after it has been transcribed from DNA. Experimental evidence indicates that CBs contribute to the biogenesis of telomerase enzyme, and assist in subsequent transport of telomerase to telomeres.
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