We have investigated the role of topoisomerase II (topo II) in mitotic chromosome assembly and organization in vitro using Xenopus egg extracts. When sperm chromatin was incubated with mitotic extracts, the highly compact chromatin rapidly swelled and concomitantly underwent local condensation. Further incubation induced the formation of entangled thin chromatin fibers that eventually resolved into highly condensed individual chromosomes. This in vitro system made it possible to manipulate mitotic chromosomes in their assembly condition without any isolation or stabilization steps. Two complementary approaches, immunodepletion and antibody blocking, demonstrated that topo II activity is required for chromosome assembly and condensation. Once condensation was completed, however, blocking of topo II activity had little effect on the chromosome morphology. Immunofluorescent studies showed that topo II was uniformly distributed throughout the condensed chromosomes and was not restricted to the chromosomal axis. Surprisingly, all detectable topo II molecules were easily extracted from the chromosomes under mild conditions where the shape of chromosomes was well preserved. Our results show that topo II is essential for mitotic chromosome assembly, but does not play a scaffolding role in the structural maintenance of chromosomes assembled in vitro. We also present evidence that changes of DNA topology affect the distribution of topo II in mitotic chromosomes in our system.

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