In diverse conditions, intrinsic chromatin condensates have liquid-like material properties

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2023 May 2;120(18):e2218085120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2218085120. Epub 2023 Apr 24.


Nuclear DNA in eukaryotes is wrapped around histone proteins to form nucleosomes on a chromatin fiber. Dynamic folding of the chromatin fiber into loops and variations in the degree of chromatin compaction regulate essential processes such as transcription, recombination, and mitotic chromosome segregation. Our understanding of the physical properties that allow chromatin to be dynamically remodeled even in highly compacted states is limited. Previously, we reported that chromatin has an intrinsic capacity to phase separate and form dynamic liquid-like condensates, which can be regulated by cellular factors [B. A. Gibson et al., Cell 179, 470-484.e421 (2019)]. Recent contradictory reports claim that a specific set of solution conditions is required for fluidity in condensates that would otherwise be solid [J. C. Hansen, K. Maeshima, M. J. Hendzel, Epigenetics Chromatin 14, 50 (2021); H. Strickfaden et al., Cell 183, 1772-1784.e1713 (2020)]. We sought to resolve these discrepancies, as our ability to translate with confidence these biophysical observations to cells requires their precise characterization. Moreover, whether chromatin assemblies are dynamic or static affects how processes such as transcription, loop extrusion, and remodeling will engage them inside cells. Here, we show in diverse conditions and without specific buffering components that chromatin fragments form phase separated fluids in vitro. We also explore how sample preparation and imaging affect the experimental observation of chromatin condensate dynamics. Last, we describe how liquid-like in vitro behaviors can translate to the locally dynamic but globally constrained chromatin movement observed in cells.

Keywords: biomolecular condensate; chromatin; phase separation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly
  • Chromatin*
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Histones* / metabolism
  • Nucleosomes


  • Chromatin
  • Histones
  • Nucleosomes
  • DNA

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.83bk3j9ws