The origin of the eukaryotic cell nucleus and the selective forces that drove its evolution remain unknown and are a matter of controversy. Autogenous models state that both the nucleus and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) derived from the invagination of the plasma membrane, but most of them do not advance clear selective forces for this process. Alternative models proposing an endosymbiotic origin of the nucleus fail to provide a pathway fully compatible with our knowledge of cell biology. We propose here an evolutionary scenario that reconciles both an ancestral endosymbiotic origin of the eukaryotic nucleus (endosymbiosis of a methanogenic archaeon within a fermentative myxobacterium) with an autogenous generation of the contemporary nuclear membrane and ER from the bacterial membrane. We specifically state two selective forces that operated sequentially during its evolution: (1) metabolic compartmentation to avoid deleterious co-existence of anabolic (autotrophic synthesis by the methanogen) and catabolic (fermentation by the myxobacterium) pathways in the cell, and (2) avoidance of aberrant protein synthesis due to intron spreading in the ancient archaeal genome following mitochondrial acquisition and loss of methanogenesis.BioEssays28:525-533, 2006. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.