Interphase HeLa cells manifest a stepwise shutoff of RNA synthesis when the tonicity of the extracellular medium is gradually increased. Synthesis of heterogeneous nuclear RNA is most sensitive and is selectively inhibited at 1.5 times isotonicity (450 milliosmols/liter), while 45S ribosomal RNA synthesis is not affected significantly below 2.0 times isotonicity. Transfer RNA synthesis is least sensitive to increased osmolarity and is not completely inhibited until the electrolyte concentration of the medium is elevated to 2.8 times isotonicity. Although the transcription and methylation of 45S ribosomal precursor is unaffected at 1.5 times isotonicity, there is pronounced impairment of its processing into 32S and 18S RNA. Using a refined cell synchronization technique, we have been able to compare these effects of hypertonicity with the shutoff of RNA synthesis which occurs during the G2-prophase interval of the cell division cycle. In this case, as with random cells in hypertonic medium, a selective inhibition of heterogeneous nuclear RNA synthesis and slowed processing of 45S ribosomal RNA were found, whereas synthesis of 45S and transfer RNA continued unabated throughout G2-prophase. While it is known that RNA synthesis essentially ceases during metaphase, we have noted that transfer RNA synthesis continues in metaphase at 10–15% of the interphase rate, which is of particular interest in view of the relative resistance of this species to hypertonicity. The close correlation between the patterns of cessation of RNA synthesis at mitosis and during exposure to hypertonic medium supports our earlier contention that alteration of intracellular electrolyte levels provides a useful model for studying the mechanism of mitosis.

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