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Biochemistry. 2000 Apr 11;39(14):3861-6.

Physical constraints in the condensation of eukaryotic chromosomes. Local concentration of DNA versus linear packing ratio in higher order chromatin structures.

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Departament de Bioquímica i Biologia Molecular, Facultat de Ciències, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 08193-Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain.


The local concentration of DNA in metaphase chromosomes of different organisms has been determined in several laboratories. The average of these measurements is 0.17 g/mL. In the first level of chromosome condensation, DNA is wrapped around histones forming nucleosomes. This organization limits the DNA concentration in nucleosomes to 0. 3-0.4 g/mL. Furthermore, in the structural models suggested in different laboratories for the 30-40 nm chromatin fiber, the estimated DNA concentration is significantly reduced; it ranges from 0.04 to 0.27 g/mL. The DNA concentration is further reduced when the fiber is folded into the successive higher order structures suggested in different models for metaphase chromosomes; the estimated minimum decrease of DNA concentration represents an additional 40%. These observations suggest that most of the models proposed for the 30-40 nm chromatin fiber are not dense enough for the construction of metaphase chromosomes. In contrast, it is well-known that the linear packing ratio increases dramatically in each level of DNA folding in chromosomes. Thus, the consideration of the linear packing ratio is not enough for the study of chromatin condensation; the constraint resulting from the actual DNA concentration in metaphase chromosomes must be considered for the construction of models for condensed chromatin.

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