As a Nucleus Enters a Small Pore, Chromatin Stretches and Maintains Integrity, Even with DNA Breaks

Biophys J. 2017 Feb 7;112(3):446-449. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2016.09.047. Epub 2016 Oct 27.


As a cell pushes or pulls its nucleus through a small constriction, the chromatin must distort and somehow maintain genomic stability despite ever-present double-strand breaks in the DNA. Here we visualize within a living cell the pore-size dependent deformation of a specific locus engineered into chromosome-1 and cleaved. An mCherry-tagged nuclease targets the submicron locus, causing DNA cleavage and recruiting repair factors such as GFP-53BP1 to a large region around the locus. Aspiration of a cell and its nucleus into a micropipette shows that chromatin aligns and stretches parallel to the pore. Extension is largest in small pores, increasing >10-fold but remaining 30-fold shorter than the DNA contour length in the locus. Brochard and de Gennes' blob model for tube geometry fits the data, with a simple modification for chromatin crowding. Continuity of the highly extended, cleaved chromatin is also maintained, consistent with folding and cross bridging of the DNA. Surprisingly, extensional integrity is unaffected by an inhibitor of the DNA repair scaffold.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Chromatin / metabolism*
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded*
  • Genomic Instability*
  • Mechanical Phenomena*
  • Porosity


  • Chromatin