Characterization of Drosophila heterochromatin. I. Staining and decondensation with Hoechst 33258 and quinacrine

Chromosoma. 1976 Sep 24;57(4):351-75. doi: 10.1007/BF00332160.


A number of preliminary experiments have shown that the fluorescence pattern of Hoechst 33258, as opposed to that of quinacrine, varies with the concentration of dye. The metaphase chromosomes of D. melanogaster, D. simulans, D. virilis, D. texana, D. hydei and D. ezoana have therefore been stained with two concentrations of H 33258 (0.05 and 0.5 mug/ml in phosphate buffer at pH 7) and with a single concentration of quinacrine (0.5% in absolute alcohol). The three fluorescence patterns so obtained were shown to be somewhat different in some of the species and the coincide in others. All three stainings gave an excellent longitudinal differentiation of heterochromatin while euchromatin fluoresced homogeneously. Living ganglion cells of the six species mentioned above were treated with quinacrine and H 33258. Quinacrine induced a generalized lengthening and swelling of the chromosomes and H 33258 the decondensation of specific heterochromatic regions. A correlation of the base composition of the satellite DNAs contained in the heterochromatin of the species studied with the relative fluorescence and decondensation patterns showed that: 1) the extremely fluorochrome bright areas and those decondensed are present only in species containing AT rich satellite DNA; 2) the opposite is not true since some AT-rich satellite DNAs are neither fluorochrome bright nor decondensed; 3) there is no good correspondence between Hoechst bright areas and the decondensed ones. AT richness therefore appears to be a necessary but not sufficient condition both for bright fluorescence and decondensation. Some cytological evidence suggests that similarly AT rich satellite DNAs respond differently in fluorescence and decondensation because they are bound to different chromosomal proteins. A combination of the results of fluorescence and decondensation revealed at least 14 types of heterochromatin; 4-7 of which are simultaneously present in the same species. Since closely related species (i.e. D. melanogaster and D. simulans; D. virilis and D. texana) show marked differences in the heterochromatic types they contain, it can be suggested that within the genus Drosophila qualitative variations of heterochromatin have played an important role in speciation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Bisbenzimidazole
  • DNA, Satellite / analysis
  • Deoxyribonucleotides / analysis
  • Drosophila
  • Heterochromatin / analysis*
  • Mitosis
  • Quinacrine
  • Species Specificity
  • Staining and Labeling


  • DNA, Satellite
  • Deoxyribonucleotides
  • Heterochromatin
  • Quinacrine
  • Bisbenzimidazole