The cell nucleus is considered the control center of vital cellular processes, but its material properties still puzzle scientists. An international research team led by MedUni Vienna has developed a new technique that provides unprecedented insight into the mechanical properties within this control center. For the first time, it was possible to visualize its unique dynamic structural features in living cells over time, which seem to be crucial for cell function. The study findings published in the top journal „Nature Photonics“ can contribute to a better understanding of life’s fundamental processes.
Researchers have long been interested in the mechanical properties of the cell nucleus. It is known that these properties must be well-regulated for proper cell function and can change in the course of various diseases. It is also known that the cell nucleus can behave as both a liquid and a solid. However, the underlying mechanisms of how these properties lead to vital processes such as nuclear reorganization during cell division or the rapid and highly effective synchronization of processes in different areas of the nucleus remain unclear.
Highly Dynamic Structure Visualized
The research team led by Kareem Elsayad from the Center for Anatomy and Cell Biology at MedUni Vienna has made a significant step closer to answering such questions. The scientists have developed a technique that allows the imaging of complex mechanical features in the cell nucleus in living cells over time. The method is based on a process called „Brillouin Light Scattering,“ which measures the scattering of light through constantly present thermal vibrations in a sample. From the spectrum of scattered light, the elasticity and viscosity of a sample in the direction of light scattering can be calculated. By simultaneously measuring from all angles, the scientists were able to create spatial maps of the cell nucleus, showing how its mechanical structure changes over time. They found that it exhibits not only high dynamics but also a unique long-range order that may be responsible for process synchronization within the nucleus.
Understanding the Origin of Diseases
“What we can visualize with our technology is fascinating and, in a way, groundbreaking. The unusual properties we observe provide insight into how the cell nucleus is able to synchronize vital processes so rapidly, efficiently, and precisely, even though it usually just looks like a dirty warm soup.”
– Kareem Elsayad, Study Leader
The results could also contribute to a better physical understanding of pathological anomalies associated with changes in nuclear processes. Future studies using the new technology are expected to build on these insights to clarify the key molecular actors and environmental factors underlying the peculiar mechanical and structural properties of cell nuclei.
Medical University of Vienna
Keshmiri, H., et al. (2024). Brillouin light scattering anisotropy microscopy for mapping viscoelastic anisotropy in living cells. Nature Photonics. doi.org/10.1038/s41566-023-01368-w.