The role of non-specific interactions in nuclear organization

S. de Nooijer

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The most important organelle in eukaryotic cells is the nucleus. Many processes occurring within the nucleus depend on spatial organization of the nucleus. The spatial organization of the eukaryotic nucleus derives from interactions between its constituents. Both specific interactions, for instance the interactions between a DNA binding protein and its target DNA sequence, and non-specific interactions occur. Non-specific interactions stem from physical encounters between molecules or particles, which can favour particular organizations, i.e. the ones that have the lowest entropy. The role of non-specific interactions in nuclear organization is so far not extensively studied. Here, we investigate the effects of non-specific interactions on nuclear organization, using molecular dynamics simulation techniques. Chromatin folding models can be implemented in these simulations as chains of monomers, which can form loops, branches or networks. Through a comparison of simulation results with experimental data, these models can be verified or falsified.

We used MD simulations of models for Arabidopsis chromatin organisation to show that non-specific interactions can explain the in vivo localisation of nucleoli and chromocenters. Also, we quantitatively demonstrate that chromatin looping contributes to the formation of chromosome territories. Focussing on the forces driving nuclear organization in the rosette model, we derive effective interaction potentials for rosette-loop interactions. These potentials are weak, but nevertheless drive chromocenters and nucleoli to the nuclear periphery and away from each other.

We also study the folding of a single human chromosome within its territory. The results of our simulations are analysed using a virtual confocal microscope algorithm which has the same limitations as a real confocal microscope. Thus we show that chromatin looping increases the volume occupied by a 10Mbp chromosomal sub-domain, but decreases the overlap between two neighbouring sub-domains. Our results furthermore show that the measured amount of overlap is highly dependent on both spatial resolution and signal detection threshold of the confocal microscope, and that in typical fluorescence in situ hybridisation experiments these two factors contribute to a gross underestimation of the real overlap. Zooming out to whole nucleus organization, we show that an interplay between interactions between heterochromatin and nuclear lamina generates a wide variety of nuclear organizations, with those occurring in nature requiring a fine balance between both interactions.

The differences between chromosome folding in human and Arabidopsis can be explained through differences in genomic structure and chromosome loop formation, but the underlying mechanisms and forces that organize the nucleus are very similar. The insight how specific and non-specific forces cooperate to shape nuclear organization, is therefore the most important contribution of this thesis to scientific progress.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Bisseling, Ton, Promotor
  • Mulder, Bela, Promotor
  • Wellink, Joan, Co-promotor
Award date26 Oct 2010
Place of Publication[S.l.
Print ISBNs9789085857921
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2010


  • arabidopsis
  • nuclei
  • chromosomes
  • genomes
  • chromatin
  • interactions
  • cytogenetics
  • molecular biology


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