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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Oct 1985; 82(19): 6470–6474.
PMCID: PMC390738

Formaldehyde-mediated DNA-protein crosslinking: a probe for in vivo chromatin structures.


Formaldehyde (HCHO) produces DNA-protein crosslinks both in vitro and in vivo. Simian virus 40 (SV40) chromosomes that have been fixed by prolonged incubation with HCHO either in vitro or in vivo (within SV40-infected cells) can be converted to nearly protein-free DNA by limit-digestion with Pronase in the presence of NaDodSO4. The remaining Pronase-resistant DNA-peptide adducts retard the DNA upon gel electrophoresis, allowing resolution of free and crosslink-containing DNA. Though efficiently crosslinking histones to DNA within nucleosomes both in vitro and in vivo, HCHO does not crosslink either purified lac repressor to lac operator-containing DNA or an (A + T)-DNA-binding protein (alpha-protein) to its cognate DNA in vitro. Furthermore, a protein that does not bind to DNA, such as serum albumin, is not crosslinked to DNA by HCHO even at extremely high protein concentrations. These properties of HCHO as a DNA-protein crosslinker are used to probe the distribution of nucleosomes in vivo. We show that there are no HCHO-crosslinkable DNA-protein contacts in a subset of SV40 chromosomes in vivo within a 325-base-pair stretch that spans the "exposed" (nuclease-hypersensitive) region of the SV40 chromosome. This replication origin-proximal region has been found previously to lack nucleosomes in a subset of isolated SV40 chromosomes. We discuss other applications of the HCHO technique, including the possibility of obtaining base-resolution in vivo nucleosome "footprints."

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