In the living interphase nucleus no chromosomal structures are visible. Yet in the injured cell and after treatment with most histological fixatives chromatin structures become apparent. Under certain conditions this appearance of structure in the living interphase nucleus is reversible.
We have found that this change in the interphase nucleus is the result of a change in the state of the chromosomes. In the living nucleus the chromosomes are in a greatly extended state, filling the entire nucleus. Upon injury the chromosomes condense and therefore become visible. At the same time the nuclear volume decreases. This behavior of the chromosomes is connected with their content of desoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This view is based on the following observations:
(a) Distribution of DNA in the Nucleus.—(1) The living interphase nucleus of uninjured cells absorbs diffusely at 2537 Å. No chromosomal structures are visible in ultraviolet photographs unless they are also distinct in ordinary light. If the chromosomes are made to condense they become visible and the absorption at 2537 Å is now localized in these structures. (2) After fixation with formalin and osmic acid interphase nuclei stain diffusely with Feulgen. These fixatives preserve the extended state of the chromosomes. (3) If nuclei are teased out in non-electrolytes (sucrose, glycerin) the chromosomes are extended. Such nuclei stain homogeneously with methyl green. On adding salts the chromosomes condense and the methyl green is now restricted to the visible structures.
(b) Extension and Condensation of Isolated Chromosomes.—When chromosomes isolated from interphase nuclei of calf thymus are suspended in sucrose, their volume is four to five times larger than in saline, but they retain their characteristic shapes. Chromosomes from which DNA and histone have been removed do not show this reversible extension and condensation, neither do lampbrush chromosomes of frog oocytes which contain very little DNA.
During mitosis a partial condensation of the DNA occurs in prophase, so that the mitotic chromosomes now occupy a much smaller volume of the nucleus. At telophase the chromosomes swell again to fill the entire nucleus.