Nuclear Membrane: Definition & Functions

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Lynn Swafford

Lynn has a BS and MS in biology and has taught many college biology courses.

The nuclear membrane, also known as the nuclear envelope, is one part of eukaryotic cells. Learn the definition of the nuclear membrane, its appearance, and functions, primarily protecting DNA from potentially harmful materials in the cytoplasm. Updated: 09/17/2021

Definition of Nuclear Membrane

All eukaryotic cells (those found in animals, plants, protists, and fungi) have a control center called the nucleus. This is where genetic material, or DNA, is stored. Surrounding every nucleus is a double-layered membrane called the nuclear membrane or nuclear envelope. This membrane separates the nucleoplasm, or fluid inside the nucleus, from the cytoplasm, or the fluid outside the nucleus.

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  • 0:01 Definition of Nuclear Membrane
  • 0:30 Appearance of Nuclear Membrane
  • 1:24 Function of Nuclear Membrane
  • 3:06 Lesson Summary
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Appearance of Nuclear Membrane

A nuclear envelope is made up of two membranes: an outer membrane and an inner membrane. Each membrane is composed of phospholipids arranged in a bilayer. This means that the entire nuclear membrane has four rows of phospholipids. The inner and outer membranes are separated by the perinuclear space.

The outer nuclear membrane is continuous with the rough endoplasmic reticulum, an organelle important in making and transporting proteins. Both the rough endoplasmic reticulum and the outer nuclear membrane are covered in ribosomes, which are the actual sites of protein synthesis.

Attached to the inner nuclear membrane on the nucleoplasm side is the nuclear lamina. This is a sheet of proteins that provides support for and strengthens the nuclear envelope. The nuclear lamina also attaches to and anchors chromatin, loosely arranged DNA and protein.

Function of Nuclear Membrane

The nuclear membrane keeps your DNA inside the nucleus to protect it from surrounding substances in the cytoplasm. Additionally, the nuclear envelope can regulate what materials enter or exit the nucleus. Anything that needs to pass between the nucleoplasm and the cytoplasm can only do so through holes in the membrane called nuclear pores.

Nuclear pores only allow very small molecules, ions, or proteins to freely move into or out of the nucleus. Any large molecules that need to cross the nuclear membrane must have the appropriate labels. Proteins lining the nuclear pores will recognize these labels or tags and let the molecules cross. There are two kinds of tags: the nuclear localization signal and the nuclear export signal.

A nuclear localization signal (NLS) is a short amino acid sequence that tags a molecule for entry into the nucleus. Large molecules that are needed for DNA replication or transcription in the nucleus must have the NLS. This will allow them to be recognized and escorted into the nucleoplasm by nuclear pore proteins.

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