The possible existence in eukaryotic cells of an internal, non-chromatin nuclear structural framework that facilitates gene readout as a set of spatially concerted reactions has become a popular but controversial theater of investigation. This article endeavors to present a circumspect review of the nuclear matrix concept as we presently know it, framed around two contrasting hypotheses: (1) that an internal nuclear framework actively enhances gene expression (in much the same way the cytoskeleton mediates cell locomotion, mitosis and intracellular vesicular traffic) versus (2) that the interphase chromosomes have fixed, inherited positions and that the DNA replication, transcripton and RNA processing machinery diffusionally arrives at sites of gene readout, with some aspects of nuclear structure thus being more a result than a cause of gene expression. On balance, the available information suggests that interactions among various gene expression machines may contribute to isolated nuclear matrix preparations. Some components of isolated nuclear matrix preparations may also reflect induced or reconfigured protein-protein associations. The protein characterization and ultrastructural analysis of the isolated nuclear matrix has advanced significantly in recent years, although controversies remain. Important new clues are now coming in from promising contemporary lines of research that report on nuclear structure in living cells.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press Limited