To test whether gross changes in chromatin structure occur during the cell cycle, we compared HeLa mitotic metaphase chromosomes and interphase nuclei by low angle x-ray diffraction. Interphase nuclei and metaphase chromosomes differ only in the 30-40-nm packing reflection, but not in the higher angle part of the x-ray diffraction pattern. Our interpretation of these results is that the transition to metaphase affects only the packing of chromatin fibers and not, to the resolution of our method, the internal structure of nucleosomes or the pattern of nucleosome packing within chromatin fibers. In particular, phosphorylation of histones H1 and H3 at mitosis does not affect chromatin fiber structure, since the same x-ray results are obtained whether or not histone dephosphorylation is prevented by isolating metaphase chromosomes in the presence of 5,5'-dithiobis(2-nitrobenzoate) or low concentrations of p-chloromercuriphenylsulfonate (ClHgPhSO3). We also compared metaphase chromosomes isolated by several different published procedures, and found that the isolation procedure can significantly affect the x-ray diffraction pattern. High concentrations of ClHgPhSO3 can also profoundly affect the pattern.

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