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J Cell Biol. 1997 Oct 6;139(1):1-12.

Elasticity and structure of eukaryote chromosomes studied by micromanipulation and micropipette aspiration.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Laboratoire de Spectrométrie Physique, Saint-Martin-d'Hères, France.


The structure of mitotic chromosomes in cultured newt lung cells was investigated by a quantitative study of their deformability, using micropipettes. Metaphase chromosomes are highly extensible objects that return to their native shape after being stretched up to 10 times their normal length. Larger deformations of 10 to 100 times irreversibly and progressively transform the chromosomes into a "thin filament," parts of which display a helical organization. Chromosomes break for elongations of the order of 100 times, at which time the applied force is around 100 nanonewtons. We have also observed that as mitosis proceeds from nuclear envelope breakdown to metaphase, the native chromosomes progressively become more flexible. (The elastic Young modulus drops from 5,000 +/- 1,000 to 1,000 +/- 200 Pa.) These observations and measurements are in agreement with a helix-hierarchy model of chromosome structure. Knowing the Young modulus allows us to estimate that the force exerted by the spindle on a newt chromosome at anaphase is roughly one nanonewton.

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