The objective of this study was to determine whether the permeability characteristics of the nuclear envelope vary during different phases of cellular activity. Both passive diffusion and signal-mediated transport across the envelope were analyzed during the HeLa cell cycle, and also in dividing, confluent (growth-arrested), and differentiated 3T3-L1 cultures. Colloidal gold stabilized with BSA was used to study diffusion, whereas transport was investigated using gold particles coated with nucleoplasmin, a karyophilic Xenopus oocyte protein. The gold tracers were microinjected into the cytoplasm, and subsequently localized within the cells by electron microscopy. The rates of diffusion in HeLa cells were greatest during the first and fifth hours after the onset of anaphase. These results correlate directly with the known rates of pore formation, suggesting that pores are more permeable during or just after reformation. Signal-mediated transport in HeLa cells occurs through channels that are located within the pore complexes and have functional diameters up to 230-250 A. Unlike diffusion, no significant differences in transport were observed during different phases of the cell cycle. A comparison of dividing and confluent 3T3-L1 cultures revealed highly significant differences in the transport of nucleoplasmin-gold across the envelope. The nuclei of dividing cells not only incorporated larger particles (230 A versus 190 A in diameter, including the protein coat), but the relative uptake of the tracer was about seven times greater than that in growth-arrested cells. Differentiation of confluent cells to adipocytes was accompanied by an increase in the maximum diameter of the transport channel to approximately 230 A.

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