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Biophys J. 1986 Jan;49(1):233-48.

Chromatin fibers are left-handed double helices with diameter and mass per unit length that depend on linker length.


Four classes of models have been proposed for the internal structure of eukaryotic chromosome fibers--the solenoid, twisted-ribbon, crossed-linker, and superbead models. We have collected electron image and x-ray scattering data from nuclei, and isolated chromatin fibers of seven different tissues to distinguish between these models. The fiber diameters are related to the linker lengths by the equation: D(N) = 19.3 + 0.23 N, where D(N) is the external diameter (nm) and N is the linker length (base pairs). The number of nucleosomes per unit length of the fibers is also related to linker length. Detailed studies were done on the highly regular chromatin from erythrocytes of Necturus (mud puppy) and sperm of Thyone (sea cucumber). Necturus chromatin fibers (N = 48 bp) have diameters of 31 nm and have 7.5 +/- 1 nucleosomes per 10 nm along the axis. Thyone chromatin fibers (N = 87 bp) have diameters of 39 nm and have 12 +/- 2 nucleosomes per 10 nm along the axis. Fourier transforms of electron micrographs of Necturus fibers showed left-handed helical symmetry with a pitch of 25.8 +/- 0.8 nm and pitch angle of 32 +/- 3 degrees, consistent with a double helix. Comparable conclusions were drawn from the Thyone data. The data do not support the solenoid, twisted-ribbon, or supranucleosomal particle models. The data do support two crossed-linker models having left-handed double-helical symmetry and conserved nucleosome interactions.

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