Heat denaturation of DNA in situ, in unbroken cells, was studied in relation to the cell cycle. DNA in metaphase cells denatured at lower temperatures (8 degrees-10 degrees C lower) than DNA in interphase cells. Among interphase cells, small differences between G1, S, and G2 cells were observed at temperatures above 90 degrees C. The difference between metaphase and interphase cells increased after short pretreatment with formaldehyde, decreased when cells were heated in the presence of 1 mM MgCl2, and was abolished by cell pretreatment with 0.5 N HCl. The results suggest that acid-soluble constituents of chromatin confer local stability to DNA and that the degree of stabilization is lower in metaphase chromosomes than in interphase nuclei. These in situ results remain in contrast to the published data showing no difference in DNA denaturation in chromatin isolated from interphase and metaphase cells. It is likely that factors exist which influence the stability of DNA in situ are associated with the super-structural organization of chromatin in intact nuclei and which are lost during chromatin isolation and solubilization. Since DNA denaturation is assayed after cell cooling, there is also a possibility that the extent of denatured DNA may be influenced by some factors that control strand separation and DNA reassociation. The different stainability of interphase vs. metaphase cells, based on the difference in stability of DNA, offers a method for determining mitotic indices by flow cytofluorometry, and a possible new parameter for sorting cells in metaphase.
Heat denaturation profiles of rat thymus DNA, in intact cells, reveal the presence of two main DNA fractions differing in sensitivities to heat. The thermosensitive DNA fraction shows certain properties similar to those of free DNA: its stability to heat is decreased by alcohols and is increased in the presence of the divalent cations Ca2+, Mn2+, or Mg2+ at concentrations of 0.1-1.0 mM. Unlike free DNA, however, this fraction denatures over a wide range of temperature, and is heterogeneous, consisting of at least two subfractions with different melting points. The thermoresistant DNA fraction shows lowered stability to heat in the presence of Ca2+, Mn2+, or Mg2+ and increased stability in the presence of alcohols. It denatures within a relatively narrow range of temperature, consists of at least three subfractions, and, most likely, represents DNA masked by histones. The effect of Ca2+, Mn2+, or Mg2+ in lowering the melting point of the thermoresistant DNA fraction is seen at cation concentrations comparable to those required to maintain gross chromatin structure in cell nuclei or to support superhelical DNA conformation in isolated chromatin (0.5-1.0 mM). It is probable that factors involved in the maintenance of gross chromatin organization in situ and/or related to DNA superhelicity also have a role in modulating DNA-histone interactions, and that DNA-protein interactions as revealed by conventional methods using isolated chromatin may be different from those revealed when gross chromatin morphology remains intact.