An in vitro system was developed that provides a quick microscopic assay for nuclear transport. The assay uses an extract of Xenopus eggs, normal or synthetic nuclei, and a fluorescently labeled nuclear protein, nucleoplasmin. This in vitro system accurately mimics in vivo nuclear transport, both in exclusivity and in the amount of accumulation observed (up to 17-fold). Selective accumulation of fluorescent nucleoplasmin is observed microscopically within 30 min with rat liver nuclei, Xenopus embryonic nuclei, regrown Xenopus sperm nuclei, or nuclei reconstituted in vitro from bacteriophage lambda DNA. This transport requires the signal domain of nucleoplasmin. Furthermore, the ability of nuclei to accumulate nucleoplasmin directly correlates with their ability to exclude the fluorescent non-nuclear proteins, FITC-immunoglobulin and phycoerythrin. An active transport model would predict that nuclear transport be temperature- and energy-dependent and that inhibition of transport by either low temperature or energy depletion would be reversible. Both predictions were confirmed in our system. Nucleoplasmin accumulation increases with temperature, while the protein is completely excluded at 0 degrees C. The effects of low temperature are reversible. As found for 125I-labeled nucleoplasmin (Newmeyer, D. D., J. M. Lucocq, T. R. Bürglin, and E. M. De Robertis, 1986, EMBO (Eur. Mol. Biol. Organ.) J., 5:501-510), transport of fluorescent nucleoplasmin is inhibited by ATP depletion. This effect is reversed by later ATP addition. Under ATP-depleted conditions non-nuclear proteins continue to be excluded. These results argue for a direct role of ATP in transport rather than for a simple role in preserving envelope integrity. In a first step towards defining the minimum requirements for a transport medium, egg extracts were depleted of membrane vesicles. Membrane-depleted extracts neither support transport nor maintain the integrity of the nuclear envelope.

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