Structural features of nucleosomes in interphase and metaphase chromosomes

Mol Cell. 2021 Nov 4;81(21):4377-4397.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.08.010. Epub 2021 Sep 2.


Structural heterogeneity of nucleosomes in functional chromosomes is unknown. Here, we devise the template-, reference- and selection-free (TRSF) cryo-EM pipeline to simultaneously reconstruct cryo-EM structures of protein complexes from interphase or metaphase chromosomes. The reconstructed interphase and metaphase nucleosome structures are on average indistinguishable from canonical nucleosome structures, despite DNA sequence heterogeneity, cell-cycle-specific posttranslational modifications, and interacting proteins. Nucleosome structures determined by a decoy-classifying method and structure variability analyses reveal the nucleosome structural variations in linker DNA, histone tails, and nucleosome core particle configurations, suggesting that the opening of linker DNA, which is correlated with H2A C-terminal tail positioning, is suppressed in chromosomes. High-resolution (3.4-3.5 Å) nucleosome structures indicate DNA-sequence-independent stabilization of superhelical locations ±0-1 and ±3.5-4.5. The linker histone H1.8 preferentially binds to metaphase chromatin, from which chromatosome cryo-EM structures with H1.8 at the on-dyad position are reconstituted. This study presents the structural characteristics of nucleosomes in chromosomes.

Keywords: Xenopus egg extract; alpha-2-macroglobulin; cell cycle; chromatin; cryo-EM; histone H1; lectin; mitosis; nucleosome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Division
  • Chromatin / chemistry
  • Chromosomes / chemistry*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • DNA / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Interphase*
  • Metaphase*
  • Nucleosomes / chemistry
  • Nucleosomes / metabolism*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Domains
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Xenopus


  • Chromatin
  • Nucleosomes
  • DNA