The influence of volume exclusion by chromatin on the time required to find specific DNA binding sites by diffusion

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 1;108(9):3815-20. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018821108. Epub 2011 Feb 7.


Within the nuclei of eukaryotic cells, the density of chromatin is nonuniform. We study the influence of this nonuniform density, which we derive from microscopic images [Schermelleh L, et al. (2008) Science 320:1332-1336], on the diffusion of proteins within the nucleus, under the hypothesis that chromatin density is proportional to an effective potential that tends to exclude the diffusing protein from regions of high chromatin density. The constant of proportionality, which we call the volume exclusivity of chromatin, is a model parameter that we can tune to study the influence of such volume exclusivity on the random time required for a diffusing particle to find its target. We consider randomly chosen binding sites located in regions of low (20th-30th percentile) chromatin density, and we compute the median time to find such a binding site by a protein that enters the nucleus at a randomly chosen nuclear pore. As the volume exclusivity of chromatin increases from zero, we find that the median time needed to reach the target binding site at first decreases to a minimum, and then increases again as the volume exclusivity of chromatin increases further. Random permutation of the voxel values of chromatin density abolishes the minimum, thus demonstrating that the speedup seen with increasing volume exclusivity at low to moderate volume exclusivity is dependent upon the spatial structure of chromatin within the nucleus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Size*
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • Diffusion
  • Indoles / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Time Factors


  • Chromatin
  • Indoles
  • DAPI
  • DNA