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Mechanics of the Nucleus

  1. Jan Lammerding

Published Online: 1 APR 2011

DOI: 10.1002/cphy.c100038

Comprehensive Physiology

Comprehensive Physiology

How to Cite

Lammerding, J. 2011. Mechanics of the Nucleus. Comprehensive Physiology. 1:783–807.

Author Information

  1. Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 APR 2011


The nucleus is the distinguishing feature of eukaryotic cells. Until recently, it was often considered simply as a unique compartment containing the genetic information of the cell and associated machinery, without much attention to its structure and mechanical properties. This article provides compelling examples that illustrate how specific nuclear structures are associated with important cellular functions, and how defects in nuclear mechanics can cause a multitude of human diseases. During differentiation, embryonic stem cells modify their nuclear envelope composition and chromatin structure, resulting in stiffer nuclei that reflect decreased transcriptional plasticity. In contrast, neutrophils have evolved characteristic lobulated nuclei that increase their physical plasticity, enabling passage through narrow tissue spaces in their response to inflammation. Research on diverse cell types further demonstrates how induced nuclear deformations during cellular compression or stretch can modulate cellular function. Pathological examples of disturbed nuclear mechanics include the many diseases caused by mutations in the nuclear envelope proteins lamin A/C and associated proteins, as well as cancer cells that are often characterized by abnormal nuclear morphology. In this article, we will focus on determining the functional relationship between nuclear mechanics and cellular (dys-)function, describing the molecular changes associated with physiological and pathological examples, the resulting defects in nuclear mechanics, and the effects on cellular function. New insights into the close relationship between nuclear mechanics and cellular organization and function will yield a better understanding of normal biology and will offer new clues into therapeutic approaches to the various diseases associated with defective nuclear mechanics. © 2011 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 1:783-807, 2011.