The nucleus is irreversibly shaped by motion of cell boundaries in cancer and non-cancer cells.
Alterations in nuclear morphology are closely associated with essential cell functions, such as cell motility and polarization, and correlate with a wide range of human diseases, including cancer, muscular dystrophy, dilated cardiomyopathy and progeria. However, the mechanics and forces that shape the nucleus are not well understood. Here, we demonstrate that when an adherent cell is detached from its substratum, the nucleus undergoes a large volumetric reduction accompanied by a morphological transition from an almost smooth to a heavily folded surface. We develop a mathematical model that systematically analyzes the evolution of nuclear shape and volume. The analysis suggests that the pressure difference across the nuclear envelope, which is influenced by changes in cell volume and regulated by microtubules and actin filaments, is a major factor determining nuclear morphology. Our results show that physical and chemical properties of the extracellular microenvironment directly influence nuclear morphology and suggest that there is a direct link between the environment and gene regulation.