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Nucleoplasm, also called nuclear sap or karyoplasm, is the fluid usually found in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells. This fluid contains primarily water, dissolved ions, and a complex mixture of molecules. Its primary function is to act as a suspension medium for the organelles of the nucleus. Other functions include the maintenance of nuclear shape and structure, and the transportation of ions, molecules, and other substances important to cell metabolism and function.
There are many types of plasm contained within a eukaryotic cell. The protoplasm is all of the cell's contents. Cytoplasm includes all cell fluids and organelles within the cell membrane or wall, but outside the nucleus. Cytosol, a fluid similar to nucleoplasm in both function and composition, is the main component of cytoplasm, making up about 70% of the cell's total volume. A nuclear membrane around the cell's nucleus separates the nucleoplasmic fluid from the cytoplasm in the rest of the cell.
The highly viscous nucleoplasmic fluid suspends and protects the nucleolus. This organelle is composed of proteins and nucleic acids, and it is responsible for the transcription and assembly of ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA), a type of RNA that works together with messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) and transfer ribonucleic acid (tRNA) to transform amino acids into proteins.
Also suspended in the nucleoplasm is a complex substance known as chromatin, which condenses during cell division to form chromosomes. Chromatin is primarily made up of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and proteins called histones. When cell division occurs, the nuclear membrane dissolves and the nucleus releases its plasm, along with the genetic information contained in the fluid. After the process of division is complete, the two resulting sister cells reform their nuclear membranes, allowing their nuclei to refill with nucleoplasmic fluid.
Nucleotides, molecules that are one of the building blocks for both RNA and DNA, are also dissolved in this fluid. Enzymes that direct the activity taking place in the nucleus can be found there as well. The fluid allows for easy transportation of these molecules and enzymes within the nucleus. As the nuclear membrane is impermeable to many types of molecules, protein complexes in the membrane, called nuclear pores, allow substances to be transported between the cytoplasm and nucleoplasm.
The nuclear matrix is also thought to be contained in this plasm, although the form, function, and even the existence of the nuclear matrix are subjects of debate. Generally, it is believed that the nuclear matrix is a network of protein fibers responsible for maintaining the size and shape of the nucleus. If this is true, then it is similar in function to the cytoskeleton found in the cell's cytoplasm.
If something goes wrong with a cell's nucleoplasm, the entire cell can have problems. The writer Madeleine L'Engle toyed with this idea in her story A Wind in The Door, where she wrote about problems with a person's mitochondria and how that could affect a human's entire health. It really is fascinating how much we can be affected by the seemingly tiny scale of these parts of our bodies.