At the end of mitosis membrane vesicles are targeted to the surface of chromatin and fuse to form a continuous nuclear envelope. To investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying these steps in nuclear envelope assembly, we have developed a defined cell-free system in which the binding and fusion steps in nuclear envelope assembly can be examined separately. We have found that extensively boiled Xenopus egg extracts efficiently promote the decondensation of demembranated Xenopus sperm chromatin. When isolated membranes are added to this decondensed chromatin a specific subfraction of membrane vesicles (approximately 70 nM in diameter) bind to the chromatin, but these vesicles do not fuse to each other. Vesicle binding is independent of ATP and insensitive to N-ethylmalamide. Quantitative analysis of these sites by EM suggests that there is at least one vesicle binding site per 100 kb of chromosomal DNA. We show by tryptic digestion that vesicle-chromatin association requires proteins on both the vesicle and on the chromatin. In addition, we show that the vesicles bound under these conditions will fuse into an intact nuclear envelope when incubated with the soluble fraction of a Xenopus egg nuclear assembly extract. With respect to vesicle fusion, we have found that vesicles prebound to chromatin will fuse to each other when ATP and GTP are present in the boiled extract. These results indicate that nuclear envelope assembly is mediated by a subset of approximately 70-nM-diam vesicles which bind to chromatin sites spaced 100 kb apart and that fusion of these vesicles is regulated by membrane-associated GTP-binding proteins.

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