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J Struct Biol. 2012 Jun;178(3):260-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2012.03.007. Epub 2012 Apr 6.

Characterization of Escherichia coli nucleoids released by osmotic shock.

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Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, BioCentrum Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, Kruislaan 316, 1098 SM Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Nucleoids were isolated by osmotic shock from Escherichia coli spheroplasts at relatively low salt concentrations and in the absence of detergents. Sucrose-protected cells, made osmotically sensitive by growth in the presence of ampicillin or by digestion with low lysozyme concentrations (50-5 μg/ml), were shocked by 100-fold dilution of the sucrose buffer. Liberated nucleoids stained with 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole dihydrochloride hydrate (DAPI), the dimeric cyanine dye TOTO-1, or fluorescent DNA-binding protein appeared as cloud-like structures, in the absence of phase contrast. Because UV-irradiation disrupted the DAPI-stained nucleoids within 5-10 s, they were imaged by time-lapse microscopy with exposure times less than 2 s. The volume of nucleoids isolated from ampicillin- or low-lysozyme spheroplasts and minimally exposed to UV (<2 s) was on average ∼42 μm(3). Lysozyme at concentrations above 1 μg/ml in the lysate compacted the nucleoids. Treatment with protease E or K (20-200 μg/ml) and sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS; 0.001-0.01%) caused a twofold volume increase and showed a granular nucleoid at the earliest UV-exposure; the expansion could be reversed with 50 μM ethidium bromide, but not with chloroquine. While DNase (1 μg/ml) caused a rapid disruption of the nucleoids, RNase (0.1-400 μg/ml) had no effect. DAPI-stained nucleoids treated with protease, SDS or DNase consisted of granular substructures at the earliest exposure similar to UV-disrupted nucleoids obtained after prolonged (>4 s) UV irradiation. We interpret the measured volume in terms of a physical model of the nucleoid viewed as a branched DNA supercoil crosslinked by adhering proteins into a homogeneous network.

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