A number of structural and functional subnuclear compartments have been described, including regions exclusive of chromosomes previously hypothesized to form a reactive nuclear space. We have now explored this accessible nuclear space and interchromosomal nucleoplasmic domains experimentally using Xenopus vimentin engineered to contain a nuclear localization signal (NLS-vimentin). In stably transfected human cells incubated at 37 degrees C, the NLS-vimentin formed a restricted number of intranuclear speckles. At 28 degrees C, the optimal temperature for assembly of the amphibian protein, NLS-vimentin progressively extended with time out from the speckles into strictly orientated intranuclear filamentous arrays. This enabled us to observe the development of a system of interconnecting channel-like areas. Quantitative analysis based on 3-D imaging microscopy revealed that these arrays were localized almost exclusively outside of chromosome territories. During mitosis the filaments disassembled and dispersed throughout the cytoplasm, while in anaphase-telophase the vimentin was recruited back into the nucleus and reassembled into filaments at the chromosome surfaces, in distributions virtually identical to those observed in the previous interphase. The filaments also colocalized with specific nuclear RNAs, coiled bodies and PML bodies, all situated outside of chromosome territories, thereby interlinking these structures. This strongly implies that these nuclear entities coexist in the same interconnected nuclear compartment. The assembling NLS-vimentin is restricted to and can be used to delineate, at least in part, the formerly proposed reticular interchromosomal domain compartment (ICD). The properties of NLS-vimentin make it an excellent tool for performing structural and functional studies on this compartment.

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