Half a century of "the nuclear matrix".
A cell fraction that would today be termed "the nuclear matrix" was first described and patented in 1948 by Russian investigators. In 1974 this fraction was rediscovered and promoted as a fundamental organizing principle of eukaryotic gene expression. Yet, convincing evidence for this functional role of the nuclear matrix has been elusive and has recently been further challenged. What do we really know about the nonchromatin elements (if any) of internal nuclear structure? Are there objective reasons (as opposed to thinly veiled disdain) to question experiments that use harsh nuclear extraction steps and precipitation-prone conditions? Are the known biophysical properties of the nucleoplasm in vivo consistent with the existence of an extensive network of anastomosing filaments coursing dendritically throughout the interchromatin space? To what extent may the genome itself contribute information for its own quarternary structure in the interphase nucleus? These questions and recent work that bears on the mystique of the nuclear matrix are addressed in this essay. The degree to which gene expression literally depends on nonchromatin nuclear structure as a facilitating organizational format remains an intriguing but unsolved issue in eukaryotic cell biology, and considerable skepticism continues to surround the nuclear matrix fraction as an accurate representation of the in vivo situation.