The degree of chromatin condensation in isolated rat liver nuclei and chicken erythrocyte nuclei was studied by phase-contrast microscopy as a function of solvent pH, K+ and Mg++ concentrations Data were represented as "phase" maps, and standard solvent conditions selected that reproducibly yield granular, slightly granular, and homogeneous nuclei Nuclei in these various states were examined by ultraviolet absorption and circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy, low-angle X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, and binding capacity for ethidium bromide Homogeneous nuclei exhibited absorption and CD spectra resembling those of isolated nucleohistone. Suspensions of granular nuclei showed marked turbidity and absorption flattening, and a characteristic blue-shift of a crossover wavelength in the CD spectra. In all solvent conditions studied, except pH < 2 3, low-angle X-ray reflections characteristic of the native, presumably superhelical, nucleohistone were observed from pellets of intact nuclei. Threads (100–200 A diameter) were present in the condensed and dispersed phases of nuclei fixed under the standard solvent conditions, and examined in the electron microscope after thin sectioning and staining Nuclei at neutral pH, with different degrees of chromatin condensation, exhibited similar binding capacities for ethidium bromide. These data suggest a model that views chromatin condensation as a close packing of superhelical nucleohistone threads but still permits condensed chromatin to respond rapidly to alterations in solvent environment.

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