Polynucleosomes from calf brain cortical neurone nuclei have an average repeat length of less than 168 base pairs. The ability of this material to adopt higher order structure has been assessed by various physical techniques. Although containing on average less DNA per nucleosome than is required to form a chromatosome, this short repeat length chromatin folded in an H1 dependent manner to a structure with properties similar to those observed for longer repeat length chromatins such as that of chicken erythrocyte (McGhee, J.D., D.C. Rau, E. Charney, and G. Felsenfeld, 1980, Cell, 22:87-96). These observations are discussed in the context of H1 location in the higher order chromatin fiber.
We show here that the solenoid is maintained by the combination of linker histones and the nonglobular, highly basic "tails" of the core histones, which play only a minor part in the formation of the nucleosome core (Whitlock and Simpson, 1977. J. Biol. Chem. 252:6,516--6,520; Lilley and Tatchell, 1977. Nucleic Acids Res. 4:2,039--2,055; and Whitlock and Stein, 1978. J. Biol. Chem. 253:3,857--3,861). Polynucleosomes that contain core histones devoid of tails remain substantially unfolded under conditions otherwise favorable for the formation of solenoids. The tails can be replaced by extraneous basic polypeptides and in the presence of the linker histones the solenoid structure is then spontaneously recovered, as judged by a wide variety of structural criteria. The inference is that the core histone tail segments function by providing electrostatic shielding of the DNA charge and at the same time bridging adjacent nucleosomes in the solenoid. Our results carry the further implication that posttranscriptional modifications, such as acetylation of epsilon-amino groups, that reduce the positive charge of the core histone tails will tend to destabilize the higher-order structure and could thus render the DNA with which they are associated more readily available for transcription.
Chicken erythrocyte chromatins containing a single species of linker histone, H1 or H5, have been prepared, using reassembly techniques developed previously. The reconstituted complexes possess the conformation of native chicken erythrocyte chromatin, as judged by chemical and structural criteria; saturation is reached when two molecules of linker histone are bound per nucleosome, as in native erythrocyte chromatin, which the resulting material resembles in its appearance in the electron microscope and quantitatively in its linear condensation factor relative to free DNA. The periodicity of micrococcal nuclease-sensitive sites in the linker regions associated with histone H1 or H5 is 10.4 base pairs, suggesting that the spatial organization of the linker region in the higher-order structure of chromatin is similar to that in isolated nucleosomes. The susceptible sites are cut at differing frequencies, as previously found for the nucleosome cores, leading to a characteristic distribution of intensities in the digests. The scission frequency of sites in the linker DNA depends additionally on the identity of the linker histone, suggesting that the higher-order structure is subject to secondary modulation by the associated histones.