Characterizing the nuclease accessibility of DNA in human cells to map higher order structures of chromatin

Nucleic Acids Res. 2019 Feb 20;47(3):1239-1254. doi: 10.1093/nar/gky1203.


Packaging of DNA into chromatin regulates DNA accessibility and consequently all DNA-dependent processes. The nucleosome is the basic packaging unit of DNA forming arrays that are suggested, by biochemical studies, to fold hierarchically into ordered higher-order structures of chromatin. This organization has been recently questioned using microscopy techniques, proposing an irregular structure. To address the principles of chromatin organization, we applied an in situ differential MNase-seq strategy and analyzed in silico the results of complete and partial digestions of human chromatin. We investigated whether different levels of chromatin packaging exist in the cell. We assessed the accessibility of chromatin within distinct domains of kb to Mb genomic regions, performed statistical analyses and computer modelling. We found no difference in MNase accessibility, suggesting no difference in fiber folding between domains of euchromatin and heterochromatin or between other sequence and epigenomic features of chromatin. Thus, our data suggests the absence of differentially organized domains of higher-order structures of chromatin. Moreover, we identified only local structural changes, with individual hyper-accessible nucleosomes surrounding regulatory elements, such as enhancers and transcription start sites. The regulatory sites per se are occupied with structurally altered nucleosomes, exhibiting increased MNase sensitivity. Our findings provide biochemical evidence that supports an irregular model of large-scale chromatin organization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Composition
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Chromatin / chemistry*
  • Computer Simulation
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA Packaging*
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Micrococcal Nuclease*
  • Nucleosomes
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Chromatin
  • Nucleosomes
  • DNA
  • Micrococcal Nuclease