Nucleosome core particles correspond to the structural units of eukaryotic chromatin. They are charged colloids, 101 Å in diameter and 55 Å in length, formed by the coiling of a 146/147 bp DNA fragment (50 nm) around the histone protein octamer. Solutions of these particles can be concentrated, under osmotic pressure, up to the concentrations found in the nuclei of living cells. In the presence of monovalent cations (Na+), nucleosomes self-assemble into crystalline or liquid crystalline phases. A lamello-columnar phase is observed at ‘low salt’ concentrations, while a two-dimensional hexagonal phase and a three-dimensional quasi-hexagonal phase form at ‘high salt’ concentrations. We followed the formation of these phases from the dilute isotropic solutions to the ordered phases by combining cryoelectron microscopy and X-ray diffraction analyses. The phase diagram is presented as a function of the monovalent salt concentration and applied osmotic pressure. An alternative method to condense nucleosomes is to induce their aggregation upon addition of divalent or multivalent cations (Mg2+, spermidine3+ and spermine4+). Ordered phases are also found in the aggregates. We also discuss whether these condensed phases of nucleosomes may be relevant from a biological point of view.
One contribution of 18 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘New Directions in Liquid Crystals’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society