Electron microscope examination of isolated rat liver nuclei after treatment with the detergent Triton X-100 revealed the complete removal of both the inner and outer membranes of the nuclear envelope. The envelope-denuded nuclei did not show any change in either shape or internal ultrastructure. Most strikingly, the nuclear pore complexes, which in untreated nuclei appear to be integral components of the nuclear envelope, were retained in their characteristic location at the distal ends of the channels leading through the peripheral heterochromatin.
Determination of the chemical composition of detergent-treated nuclei showed that over 95% of the nuclear phospholipid was solubilized, thus corroborating the morphological absence of nuclear membranes. Furthermore, detergent treatment also solubilized approximately 10% of the nuclear protein. Analysis of the solubilized protein by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis in the presence of SDS indicated that these proteins belong to a few specific classes which presumably represent the major polypeptides of the nuclear membranes.
The total absence of the nuclear envelope on both morphological and biochemical grounds supports the idea that the nuclear pore complex does not require the membranes either for attachment to the nucleus or for maintenance of its own structural integrity.