The three-dimensional organization of the enormously long DNA molecules packaged within metaphase chromosomes has been one of the most elusive problems in structural biology. Chromosomal DNA is associated with histones and different structural models consider that the resulting long chromatin fibers are folded forming loops or more irregular three-dimensional networks. Here, we report that fragments of chromatin fibers obtained from human metaphase chromosomes digested with micrococcal nuclease associate spontaneously forming multilaminar platelike structures. These self-assembled structures are identical to the thin plates found previously in partially denatured chromosomes. Under metaphase ionic conditions, the fragments that are initially folded forming the typical 30-nm chromatin fibers are untwisted and incorporated into growing plates. Large plates can be self-assembled from very short chromatin fragments, indicating that metaphase chromatin has a high tendency to generate plates even when there are many discontinuities in the DNA chain. Self-assembly at 37°C favors the formation of thick plates having many layers. All these results demonstrate conclusively that metaphase chromatin has the intrinsic capacity to self-organize as a multilayered planar structure. A chromosome structure consistent of many stacked layers of planar chromatin avoids random entanglement of DNA, and gives compactness and a high physical consistency to chromatids. © 2012 by the Biophysical Society.
|Publication status||Published - 8 Aug 2012|