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J Cell Biol. 1995 February 2; 128(4): 467–483.
PMCID: PMC2199888

Cell size regulation, a mechanism that controls cellular RNA accumulation: consequences on regulation of the ubiquitous transcription factors Oct1 and NF-Y and the liver-enriched transcription factor DBP

Abstract

Cell sizes can differ vastly between cell types in individual metazoan organisms. In rat liver, spleen, and thymus, differences in average cell size roughly reflect differences in RNA:DNA ratios. For example, hepatocytes were found to have a cytoplasmic:nuclear volume ratio and an RNA:DNA ratio which were 34- and 21-fold higher, respectively, than those in thymocytes. RNA synthesis per DNA-equivalent in the hepatocytes was 25-fold greater than that in thymocytes, suggesting that differences in overall transcriptional activity, not differences in overall RNA stability, were primarily responsible for determining cellular RNA:DNA ratios. The mechanisms determining the capacity of large cells to synthesize and accumulate more ubiquitous cytoplasmic macromolecules, such as ribosomes, than smaller cells is entitled "cell size regulation." Cell size regulation may have important consequences on the tissue distribution of transcription factors. Thus, in liver, lung, kidney, spleen, and brain, cellular levels of the mRNA encoding the leucine zipper protein DBP correlate closely to cellular RNA:DNA ratios. Our results suggest that DBP mRNA levels, like rRNA levels, are transcriptionally determined. Thus the dbp gene, like the ribosomal genes, may be subject to cell size regulation. As a consequence, nuclei from liver, a tissue with a very large average cell size, accumulated higher levels of DBP protein than nuclei from small-celled tissues, such as spleen or lung. In contrast to DBP, the ubiquitous transcription factors Oct1 and NF-Y escaped cell size control. Nuclei from most tissues contained similar amounts of these factors irrespective of cell size. Likewise, tissues with large or small average cell sizes contained similar levels of the mRNAs encoding Oct1 or NF-Ya, one of the subunits of the heteromeric CCAAT-binding factor NF-Y, per DNA-equivalent. Interestingly, mRNA encoding NF-Yb, another subunit of NF-Y, was subject to cell size regulation. Our results suggest that NF-Yb protein escapes cell size regulation at a posttranslational level.

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Selected References

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