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The largest of the membrane-bounded organelles which characterize eukaryotic cells; it is thought of as the control center since it contains the bulk of the cell's genetic information in the form of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The nucleus has two major functions: (1) It is the site of synthesis of ribonucleic acid (RNA), which in turn directs the formation of the protein molecules on which all life depends; and (2) in any cell preparing for division, the nucleus precisely duplicates its DNA for later distribution to cell progeny. See Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), Eukaryotae, Ribonucleic acid (RNA)
The diameter of nuclei ranges from 1 micrometer in intracellular parasites and yeast cells to several millimeters in some insect sperm. Spherical or ellipsoidal nuclei are found in most cell types, although occasionally spindle-shaped, lobulated, disc-shaped, or cup-shaped nuclei may be observed. Although nuclear size and shape are somewhat consistent features of a particular cell type, these features are more variable in cancer cells. In addition, tumor cell nuclei are characterized by indentation, furrowing, elongation, and budding.
The nucleus is bounded by a double membrane (the nuclear envelope) and contains several major components: chromatin, which is composed of DNA and chromosomal proteins; the nucleolus, which is the site of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) synthesis; and nucleoplasmic fibrils and granules, some of which are involved in the processing and transport of messenger RNA out of the nucleus (see illustration). The constituents of the nucleus are contained within a framework referred to as the nuclear matrix.