Background: The shape of a nucleus depends on the nuclear lamina, which is tightly associated with the inner nuclear membrane and on the interaction with the cytoskeleton. However, the mechanism connecting the differentiation state of a cell to the shape changes of its nucleus are not well understood. We investigated this question in early Drosophila embryos, where the nuclear shape changes from spherical to ellipsoidal together with a 2.5-fold increase in nuclear length during cellularization.
Results: We identified two genes, kugelkern and kurzkern, required for nuclear elongation. In kugelkern- and kurzkern-depleted embryos, the nuclei reach only half the length of the wild-type nuclei at the end of cellularization. The reduced nuclear size affects chromocenter formation as marked by Heterochromatin protein 1 and expression of a specific set of genes, including early zygotic genes. kugelkern contains a putative coiled-coil domain in the N-terminal half of the protein, a nuclear localization signal (NLS), and a C-terminal CxxM-motif. The carboxyterminal CxxM motif is required for the targeting of Kugelkern to the inner nuclear membrane, where it colocalizes with lamins. Depending on the farnesylation motif, expression of kugelkern in Drosophila embryos or Xenopus cells induces overproliferation of nuclear membrane.
Conclusions: Kugelkern is so far the first nuclear protein, except for lamins, that contains a farnesylation site. Our findings suggest that Kugelkern is a rate-determining factor for nuclear size increase. We propose that association of farnesylated Kugelkern with the inner nuclear membrane induces expansion of nuclear surface area, allowing nuclear growth.