In the present study, various sized gold particles coated with tRNA, 5S RNA, or poly(A) were used to localize and characterize the pathways for RNA translocation to the cytoplasm. RNA-coated gold particles were microinjected into the nucleus of Xenopus oocytes. The cells were fixed after 15, 60 min, or 6 h, and the particle distribution was later observed by electron microscopy. Similar results were obtained with all classes of RNA used. After nuclear injection, particles ranging from 20-230 A in diameter were observed within central channels of the nuclear pores and in the cytoplasm immediately adjacent to the pores. Particles of this size would not be expected to diffuse through the pores, suggesting that some form of mediated transport occurred. In addition, it was found that the translocation process is saturable. At least 97% of the pores analyzed appeared to be involved in the translocation process. Gold coated with nonphysiological polynucleotides (poly[I] or poly[dA]) were also translocated. When nuclei were injected with either BSA-, ovalbumin-, polyglutamic acid-, or PVP-coated gold, the particles were essentially excluded from the pores. These results indicate that the accumulation of RNA-gold within the pores and adjacent cytoplasm was not due to non-specific effects. We conclude that the translocation sites for gold particles coated with different classes of RNA are located in the centers of the nuclear pores and that particles at least 230 A in diameter can cross the envelope. Tracer particles injected into the cytoplasm were observed within the nuclear pores in areas near the site of injection. However, only a small percentage of the particles actually entered the nucleus. It was also determined, by performing double injection experiments, that individual pores are bifunctional, that is, capable of transporting both proteins and RNA.

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