Fractions of homogeneously-sized supranucleosomal particles can be obtained in high yield and purity from various types of cells by brief micrococcal nuclease digestion (10 or 20 s) of condensed chromatin in 100 mM NaCl followed by sucrose gradient centrifugation and agarose gel electrophoresis. These chromatin particles, which contain only DNA and histones, differed according to cell type. Sea urchin spermatozoa (Paracentrotus lividus) gave rise to heavy particles (ca. 260 S) with a mean diameter (48 nm). These resembled the unit chromatin fibrils fixed in situ, which contain an average of 48 nucleosomes, as determined both by electron microscopy after unraveling in low salt buffer and gel electrophoresis. In contrast, higher order particles from chicken erythrocyte chromatin were smaller (105 S; 36-nm diam) and contained approximately 20 nucleosomes. The smallest type of supranucleosomal particle was obtained from chicken and rat liver (39 S; 32-nm diam; eight nucleosomes). Oligomeric chains of such granular particles could be recognized in regions of higher sucrose density, indicating that distinct supranucleosomal particles of globular shape are not an artifact of exposure to low salt concentrations but can be obtained at near-physiological ionic strength. The demonstration of different particle sizes in chromatin from different types of nuclei is contrary to the view that such granular particles are produced by artificial breakdown into "detached turns" from a uniform and general solenoid structure of approximately six nucleosomes per turn. Our observations indicate that the higher order packing of the nucleosomal chain can differ greatly in different types of nuclei and the supranucleosomal organization of chromatin differs between cell types and is related to the specific state of cell differentiation.

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