Architecture of metaphase chromosomes and chromosome scaffolds.
We have developed procedures for depositing intact mitotic chromosomes and isolated residual scaffolds on electron microscope grids at controlled and reproducible levels of compaction. The chromosomes were isolated using a recently developed aqueous method. Our study has addressed two different aspects of chromosome structure. First, we present a method for improved visualization of radial chromatin loops in undisrupted mitotic chromosomes. Second, we have visualized a nonhistone protein residual scaffold isolated from nuclease-digested chromosomes under conditions of low salt protein extraction. These scaffolds, which have an extremely simple protein composition, are the size of chromosomes, are fibrous in nature, and are found to retain differentiated regions that appear to derive from the kinetochores and the chromatid axis. When our standard preparation conditions were used, the scaffold appearance was found to be very reproducible. If the ionic conditions were varied, however, the scaffold appearance underwent dramatic changes. In the presence of millimolar concentrations of Mg++ or high concentrations of NaCl, the fibrous scaffold protein network was observed to undergo a lateral aggregation or assembly into a coarse meshlike structure. The alteration of scaffold structure was apparently reversible. This observation is consistent with a model in which the scaffolding network plays a dynamic role in chromosome condensation at mitosis.