Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)-protein complexes were released from the organelles by sodium dodecyl sulfate-lysis and purified by Phenyl-Sepharose CL-4B chromatography. The mitochondrial DNA-binding protein P16 was the only detectable protein in the complex. Treatment of the complex with proteinase K, or subtilisin, revealed the presence of a protease-insensitive, submolecular domain (Mr approximately equal to 6,000) that retained the capacity to bind tenaciously to the DNA. Analysis of chemically fixed complexes by CsCl isopycnic gradient centrifugation showed that P16 was bound to a large subpopulation of mtDNA enriched in displacement loops (D-loops). Based upon the effective buoyant density of the complex in CsCl gradients and the molecular weights of P16 and mtDNA, it was estimated that a mean of 49 P16 molecules were bound per mtDNA. For this measurement, the variation in hydration of protein and DNA at different CsCl concentrations was ignored. Analysis of restriction endonuclease-digested complexes by glass fiber filters that bind only protein-associated DNA resulted in the retention of a single fragment regardless of the enzyme, or enzymes, used. In each case, the retained fragment was the D-loop-containing fragment. With direct electron microscopy, the protein was readily visualized on the displaced single strand portions of D-loops and expanding D-loops. The nucleoprotein fibers were approximately 12 nm in diameter without correcting for the thickness of tungsten coating and roughly 1/3 the length of the double strand segment of the corresponding D-loop structure. In addition, occasional molecules with the characteristics of gapped circles were seen exhibiting a nucleoprotein fibril, presumably containing the single strand gap segment, linking the ends of double strand DNA. P16 was not seen on the double strand portions in any of the complexes.

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