Probe-free optical chromatin deformation and measurement of differential mechanical properties in the nucleus

Elife. 2024 Jan 12:13:e76421. doi: 10.7554/eLife.76421.


The nucleus is highly organized to facilitate coordinated gene transcription. Measuring the rheological properties of the nucleus and its sub-compartments will be crucial to understand the principles underlying nuclear organization. Here, we show that strongly localized temperature gradients (approaching 1°C/µm) can lead to substantial intra-nuclear chromatin displacements (>1 µm), while nuclear area and lamina shape remain unaffected. Using particle image velocimetry (PIV), intra-nuclear displacement fields can be calculated and converted into spatio-temporally resolved maps of various strain components. Using this approach, we show that chromatin displacements are highly reversible, indicating that elastic contributions are dominant in maintaining nuclear organization on the time scale of seconds. In genetically inverted nuclei, centrally compacted heterochromatin displays high resistance to deformation, giving a rigid, solid-like appearance. Correlating spatially resolved strain maps with fluorescent reporters in conventional interphase nuclei reveals that various nuclear compartments possess distinct mechanical identities. Surprisingly, both densely and loosely packed chromatin showed high resistance to deformation, compared to medium dense chromatin. Equally, nucleoli display particularly high resistance and strong local anchoring to heterochromatin. Our results establish how localized temperature gradients can be used to drive nuclear compartments out of mechanical equilibrium to obtain spatial maps of their material responses.

Keywords: cell biology; cell lines; chromatin deformation; in vitro; mechanical properties; nucleus; physics of living systems; probe-free.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Nucleolus
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Chromatin*
  • Color Vision*
  • Heterochromatin


  • Chromatin
  • Heterochromatin