Nuclei assembled in Xenopus egg extract from purified DNA or chromatin resemble their natural counterparts in a number of structural and functional features. However, the most obvious structural element of normal interphase nuclei, the nucleolus, is absent from the in vitro reconstituted nuclei. By EM, cytological silver staining, and immunofluorescence microscopy employing antibodies directed against various nucleolar components we show that nuclei assembled in vitro contain numerous distinct aggregates that resemble prenucleolar bodies (PNBs) by several criteria. Formation of these PNB-like structures requires pore complex-mediated nuclear transport of proteins but is independent of the genetic content of the in vitro nuclei as well as transcriptional and translational events. Our data indicate that nuclei assembled in vitro are capable of initiating early steps of nucleologenesis but that the resulting PNBs are unable to fuse with each other, probably due to the absence of a functional nucleolus organizer. With appropriate modifications, this experimental system should be useful to define and analyze conditions promoting the site-specific assembly of PNBs into a coherent nucleolar body.

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