Fiber diameter, radial distribution of density, and radius of gyration were determined from scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) of unstained, frozen-dried chromatin fibers. Chromatin fibers isolated under physiological conditions (ionic strength, 124 mM) from Thyone briareus sperm (DNA linker length, n = 87 bp) and Necturus maculosus erythrocytes (n = 48 bp) were analyzed by objective image-processing techniques. The mean outer diameters were determined to be 38.0 nm (SD = 3.7 nm; SEM = 0.36 nm) and 31.2 nm (SD = 3.6 nm; SEM = 0.32 nm) for Thyone and Necturus, respectively. These data are inconsistent with the twisted-ribbon and solenoid models, which predict constant diameters of approximately 30 nm, independent of DNA linker length. Calculated radial density distributions of chromatin exhibited relatively uniform density with no central hole, although the 4-nm hole in tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) from the same micrographs was visualized clearly. The existence of density at the center of chromatin fibers is in strong disagreement with the hollow-solenoid and hollow-twisted-ribbon models, which predict central holes of 16 and 9 nm for chromatin of 38 and 31 nm diameter, respectively. The cross-sectional radii of gyration were calculated from the radial density distributions and found to be 13.6 nm for Thyone and 11.1 nm for Necturus, in good agreement with x-ray and neutron scattering. The STEM data do not support the solenoid or twisted-ribbon models for chromatin fiber structure. They do, however, support the double-helical crossed-linker models, which exhibit a strong dependence of fiber diameter upon DNA linker length and have linker DNA at the center.

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