Nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) play a central role in mediating nucleocytoplasmic transport and exchange processes in eukaryotic cells. The arrangement and interactions of NPCs within amphibian nuclear envelopes have been studied using cryo-electron microscopy of unfixed and frozen hydrated specimens. The nuclear lamina in Necturus forms an orthogonal network with crossover distances which vary between 1,600 and 4,000 A and which may be related to the basic filament repeat of lamins. Furthermore, the NPCs are attached randomly within the confines of the lamin network, presumably by their nucleoplasmic rings. Image analysis of edge-on and en face projections of detergent-extracted NPCs has been combined with data on the coaxial thin rings to provide a quantitative evaluation of the triple ring model of NPC architecture proposed previously (Unwin, P. N. T., and R. Milligan. 1982. J. Cell Biol. 93:63-75). Additional details of the complex have been visualized including an intimate association of the inner spoke domains as an inner spoke ring, extensive domains within the spokes and coaxial thin rings, and interestingly, a central channel-like feature. Membrane-associated NPCs and detergent-extracted NPCs both possess peripherally located radial arms resulting in an effective diameter of approximately 1,450-1,500 A. In projection, the radial arms possess approximate mirror symmetry suggesting that they originate from both sides of the assembly. Moreover, membrane-associated NPCs are asymmetric at most radii and right-handed as viewed from the cytoplasm; detergent-extracted NPCs appear to be symmetric and have approximately 822 symmetry. Taken together, the data suggests that the framework of membrane-associated NPCs is perturbed from a symmetrical configuration, either during isolation of nuclei or by interactions with the lamina and the nuclear envelope in vivo. However, detergent extraction of nuclei appears to result in a more symmetrical alignment of components in apposing halves of the assembly.

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