The influence of volume exclusion by chromatin on the time required to find specific DNA binding sites by diffusion

S. A. Isaacson, D. M. McQueen, Charles S. Peskin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Within the nuclei of eukaryotic cells, the density of chromatin is nonuniform. We study the influence of this nonuniform density, which we derive from microscopic images [Schermelleh L, et al. (2008) Science 320:1332-1336], on the diffusion of proteins within the nucleus, under the hypothesis that chromatin density is proportional to an effective potential that tends to exclude the diffusing protein from regions of high chromatin density. The constant of proportionality, which we call the volume exclusivity of chromatin, is a model parameter that we can tune to study the influence of such volume exclusivity on the random time required for a diffusing particle to find its target. We consider randomly chosen binding sites located in regions of low (20th-30th percentile) chromatin density, and we compute the median time to find such a binding site by a protein that enters the nucleus at a randomly chosen nuclear pore. As the volume exclusivity of chromatin increases from zero, we find that the median time needed to reach the target binding site at first decreases to a minimum, and then increases again as the volume exclusivity of chromatin increases further. Random permutation of the voxel values of chromatin density abolishes the minimum, thus demonstrating that the speedup seen with increasing volume exclusivity at low to moderate volume exclusivity is dependent upon the spatial structure of chromatin within the nucleus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3815-3820
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 1 2011


  • First passage time
  • Gene regulation
  • Stochastic reaction-diffusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'The influence of volume exclusion by chromatin on the time required to find specific DNA binding sites by diffusion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this