Chromosome territories, interchromatin domain compartment, and nuclear matrix: an integrated view of the functional nuclear architecture

Crit Rev Eukaryot Gene Expr. 2000;10(2):179-212.


Advances in the specific fluorescent labeling of chromatin in fixed and living human cells in combination with three-dimensional (3D) and 4D (space plus time) fluorescence microscopy and image analysis have opened the way for detailed studies of the dynamic, higher-order architecture of chromatin in the human cell nucleus and its potential role in gene regulation. Several features of this architecture are now well established: 1. Chromosomes occupy distinct territories in the cell nucleus with preferred nuclear locations, although there is no evidence of a rigid suprachromosomal order. 2. Chromosome territories (CTs) in turn contain distinct chromosome arm domains and smaller chromatin foci or domains with diameters of some 300 to 800 nm and a DNA content in the order of 1 Mbp. 3. Gene-dense, early-replicating and gene-poor, middle-to-late-replicating chromatin domains exhibit different higher-order nuclear patterns that persist through all stages of interphase. In mitotic chromosomes early replicating chromatin domains give rise to Giemsa light bands, whereas middle-to-late-replicating domains form Giemsa dark bands and C-bands. In an attempt to integrate these experimental data into a unified view of the functional nuclear architecture, we present a model of a modular and dynamic chromosome territory (CT) organization. We propose that basically three nuclear compartments exist, an "open" higher-order chromatin compartment with chromatin domains containing active genes, a "closed" chromatin compartment comprising inactive genes, and an interchromatin domain (ICD) compartment (Cremer et al., 1993; Zirbel et al., 1993) that contains macromolecular complexes for transcription, splicing, DNA replication, and repair. Genes in "open," but not in "closed" higher-order chromatin compartments have access to transcription and splicing complexes located in the ICD compartment. Chromatin domains that build the "open" chromatin compartment are organized in a way that allows the direct contact of genes and nascent RNA to transcription and splicing complexes, respectively, preformed in the ICD compartment. In contrast, chromatin domains that belong to the "closed" compartment are topologically arranged and compacted in a way that precludes the accessibility of genes to transcription complexes. We argue that the content of the ICD compartment is highly enriched in DNA depleted biochemical matrix preparations. The ICD compartment may be considered as the structural and functional equivalent of the in vivo nuclear matrix. A matrix in this functional sense is compatible with but does not necessitate the concept of a 3D nuclear skeleton existing of long, extensively arborized filaments. In the absence of unequivocal evidence for such a structural matrix in the nucleus of living cells we keep an agnostic attitude about its existence and possible properties in maintaining the higher-order nuclear architecture. Quantitative modeling of the 3D and 4D human genome architecture in situ shows that such an assumption is not necessary to explain presently known aspects of the higher-order nuclear architecture. We expect that the interplay of quantitative modeling and experimental tests will result in a better understanding of the compartmentalized nuclear architecture and its functional consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Compartmentation
  • Cell Nucleus / physiology*
  • Cell Nucleus / ultrastructure
  • Chromatin
  • Chromosomes, Human
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Nuclear Matrix / physiology
  • Nuclear Matrix / ultrastructure


  • Chromatin