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Micron. 2001 Oct;32(7):645-52.

Chromatin condensation and sensitivity of DNA in situ to denaturation during cell cycle and apoptosis--a confocal microscopy study.

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Laboratory of Confocal Microscopy, Department of Biophysics, Institute of Molecular Biology, Jagiellonian University, Al. Mickiewicza 3, 31-120, Krakow, Poland.


The goal of this study was to construct high resolution 3D confocal images of regions of condensed and extended chromatin in cell nuclei and individual chromosomes. It has been shown previously that sensitivity of DNA in situ to denaturation correlates with chromatin condensation and varies during cell cycle and apoptosis. Thus, detection of DNA which was partially denatured in situ provided a means to image areas of condensed chromatin. DNA denaturation was detected using a metachromatic dye acridine orange (AO) which differentially stains single stranded (ss) and double-stranded (ds) DNA sections. Early studies of denaturability of cellular DNA utilized flow cytometry and standard fluorescence microscopy. These techniques could not reveal small local differences in DNA denaturability within cell nucleus or in individual chromosomes. For instance, it was not possible to detect the initial points of chromosome condensation in G2-phase of the division cycle or in apoptosis. In order to achieve this goal we have recently extended these studies by applying confocal microscopy. We investigated DNA denaturability in normal human fibroblasts and HL-60 leukemic cells, at different stages of cell cycle and apoptosis. Following removal of RNA and partial denaturation of DNA with acid cells were stained with AO. Green (530 nm) and red (640 nm) fluorescence (exc. 457 nm) of non-denatured and denatured DNA was imaged by confocal microscopy. Blind deconvolution was used to further improve the quality of 3D images. Photobleaching of AO fluorescence was minimized and a correction for chromatic aberration and register shift was implemented. Nuclei of interphase cells exhibited predominantly green fluorescence representing AO binding to ds DNA. Punctuate areas of red fluorescence representing AO binding to denatured DNA and most likely associated with local regions of condensed chromatin were also present in all interphase nuclei. The proportion of denatured DNA increased in cells entering mitosis. In prophase individual condensing chromosomes exhibited varied proportions of green and red fluorescence indicating different content of denatured chromatin. In some chromosomes bands of denatured and denaturation-resistant chromatin were clearly resolved. In metaphase and anaphase chromosomes exhibited red fluorescence along all length of their arms indicating the highest and uniform susceptibility to denaturation. In telophase chromosomes contained predominantly denaturation-resistant DNA again and denaturated regions were significantly less abundant. At cytokinesis some decondensing chromosomes were still resolved. At this stage almost all regions of denatured DNA were located close to nuclear envelope. These regions may correspond to pockets of heterochromatin reforming at nuclear periphery. In early apoptosis condensation of chromatin appeared to commence in several distinct regions within nucleus. Some apoptotic bodies contained condensed chromatin surrounding central regions of extended chromatin. At late stages of apoptosis the whole volume of apoptotic bodies was occupied by condensed chromatin.

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