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Changes in DNA topology during spermatogenesis

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DNA topology in histone- and protamine-depleted nuclei (nucleoids) from somatic cells, sperm, and spermatogenic cells was studied to determine if the superhelical configuration of DNA looped domains is altered during spermatogenesis. The expansion and contraction of nucleoid DNA was measured with a fluorescence microscope following exposure of nucleoids to different concentrations of ethidium bromide (EB). Nucleoids from Xenopus laevis erythrocytes, primary spermatocytes, and round spermatids, and from Rana catesbeiana sperm all exhibited a biphasic change (condensed-relaxed-condensed) in size as a function of exposure to increasing concentrations (0.5–100 μg/ml) of EB, indicating that they contain negatively supercoiled DNA. In contrast, DNA in sperm nucleoids from Xenopus laevis and Bufo fowleri was relaxed and expanded at low (0.5–6 μg/ml) EB concentrations, but became gradually condensed as the EB concentration was increased (6–100 μg/ml). Nucleoids prepared from all cell types retained the general shape of the nucleus regardless of the superhelical configuration of the nucleoid DNA. Sperm nucleoid DNA condensed by 100 μg/ml EB was relaxed by exposure to UV light, DNase I, proteinase K, or 4 M urea, but not by RNase A or 10 mM dithiothreitol. These results demonstrate that the DNA in sperm nucleoids is constrained in domains of supercoiling by nonbasic nuclear proteins. Negatively supercoiled DNA is present in nucleoids from cells with a full complement of histones, including Rana sperm, but not in nucleoids from Xenopus and Bufo sperm in which histones are replaced by “intermediate-type” protamines. Histone replacement in these species, therefore, is accompanied by unfolding of nucleosomal DNA and active removal of the negative supercoils. Results presented also suggest an important role for the nonbasic nuclear proteins of sperm in the morphogenesis of the nucleus and the arrangement of DNA.

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Correspondence to Michael S. Risley.

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Risley, M.S., Einheber, S. & Bumcrot, D.A. Changes in DNA topology during spermatogenesis. Chromosoma 94, 217–227 (1986).

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  • Ethidium Bromide
  • Dithiothreitol
  • Ethidium Bromide
  • Protamine
  • Xenopus Laevis