Regulation and Roles of the Nucleolus in Embryonic Stem Cells: From Ribosome Biogenesis to Genome Organization

Stem Cell Reports. 2020 Dec 8;15(6):1206-1219. doi: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2020.08.012. Epub 2020 Sep 24.


The nucleolus is the largest compartment of the eukaryotic cell's nucleus. It acts as a ribosome factory, thereby sustaining the translation machinery. The nucleolus is also the subnuclear compartment with the highest transcriptional activity in the cell, where hundreds of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes transcribe the overwhelming majority of RNAs. The structure and composition of the nucleolus change according to the developmental state. For instance, in embryonic stem cells (ESCs), rRNA genes display a hyperactive transcriptional state and open chromatin structure compared with differentiated cells. Increasing evidence indicates that the role of the nucleolus and rRNA genes might go beyond the control of ribosome biogenesis. One such role is linked to the genome architecture, since repressive domains are often located close to the nucleolus. This review highlights recent findings describing how the nucleolus is regulated in ESCs and its role in regulating ribosome biogenesis and genome organization for the maintenance of stem cell identity.

Keywords: ESCs; NAD; genome organization; hypertranscription; nucleolus; rRNA genes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleolus / metabolism*
  • Genome, Human / physiology*
  • Human Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Human Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ribosomes / metabolism*