The Human Nuclear Pore Complex as Revealed by Cryo-Electron Tomography

Structure. 2012 Jun 6;20(6):998-1006. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2012.03.025. Epub 2012 May 24.


Nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) are the sole passage through the nuclear envelope, connecting the cytoplasm to the nucleoplasm. These gigantic molecular machines, over 100 MDa in molecular weight, allow free diffusion of small molecules and ions while mediating selective energy-dependent nucleocytoplasmic transport of large macromolecules. Here, we applied cryo-electron tomography to human fibroblast cells, reconstructing their nuclear envelopes without applying any purification steps. From these reconstructions, we extracted subtomograms containing individual NPCs and utilized in silico subtomogram averaging procedures to determine the structure of the mammalian pore complex at a resolution of ∼6.6 nm. Beyond revealing the canonical features of the human NPC, our analysis identified inner lateral channels and fusing bridge-like structures, suggesting alternative routes of peripheral nuclear passage. Finally, we concluded from our structural analysis that the human NPC is structurally distinct from that of lower eukaryotes in terms of dimension and organization but resembles its amphibian (frog) counterpart.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / ultrastructure
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Electron Microscope Tomography
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nuclear Pore / chemistry*
  • Nuclear Pore / ultrastructure
  • Particle Size
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary
  • Structural Homology, Protein
  • Surface Properties