Heat denaturation profiles of rat thymus DNA, in intact cells, reveal the presence of two main DNA fractions differing in sensitivities to heat. The thermosensitive DNA fraction shows certain properties similar to those of free DNA: its stability to heat is decreased by alcohols and is increased in the presence of the divalent cations Ca2+, Mn2+, or Mg2+ at concentrations of 0.1-1.0 mM. Unlike free DNA, however, this fraction denatures over a wide range of temperature, and is heterogeneous, consisting of at least two subfractions with different melting points. The thermoresistant DNA fraction shows lowered stability to heat in the presence of Ca2+, Mn2+, or Mg2+ and increased stability in the presence of alcohols. It denatures within a relatively narrow range of temperature, consists of at least three subfractions, and, most likely, represents DNA masked by histones. The effect of Ca2+, Mn2+, or Mg2+ in lowering the melting point of the thermoresistant DNA fraction is seen at cation concentrations comparable to those required to maintain gross chromatin structure in cell nuclei or to support superhelical DNA conformation in isolated chromatin (0.5-1.0 mM). It is probable that factors involved in the maintenance of gross chromatin organization in situ and/or related to DNA superhelicity also have a role in modulating DNA-histone interactions, and that DNA-protein interactions as revealed by conventional methods using isolated chromatin may be different from those revealed when gross chromatin morphology remains intact.

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