Dynamic molecular mechanism of the nuclear pore complex permeability barrier

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Apr 14:2023.03.31.535055. doi: 10.1101/2023.03.31.535055.


Nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) mediate nucleocytoplasmic transport of specific macromolecules while impeding the exchange of unsolicited material. However, key aspects of this gating mechanism remain controversial. To address this issue, we determined the nanoscopic behavior of the permeability barrier directly within yeast S. cerevisiae NPCs at transport-relevant timescales. We show that the large intrinsically disordered domains of phenylalanine-glycine repeat nucleoporins (FG Nups) exhibit highly dynamic fluctuations to create transient voids in the permeability barrier that continuously shape-shift and reseal, resembling a radial polymer brush. Together with cargo-carrying transport factors the FG domains form a feature called the central plug, which is also highly dynamic. Remarkably, NPC mutants with longer FG domains show interweaving meshwork-like behavior that attenuates nucleocytoplasmic transport in vivo. Importantly, the bona fide nanoscale NPC behaviors and morphologies are not recapitulated by in vitro FG domain hydrogels. NPCs also exclude self-assembling FG domain condensates in vivo, thereby indicating that the permeability barrier is not generated by a self-assembling phase condensate, but rather is largely a polymer brush, organized by the NPC scaffold, whose dynamic gating selectivity is strongly enhanced by the presence of transport factors.

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