Nucleosomes, the basic unit of eukaryotic chromosome structure, cover most of the DNA in eukaryotes, including regulatory sequences. Here, a recently developed Förster resonance energy transfer approach is used to compare structure and stability features of sea urchin 5 S nucleosomes and nucleosomes reconstituted on two promoter sequences that are nucleosomal in vivo, containing the yeast GAL10 TATA or the major transcription response elements from the mouse mammary tumor virus promoter. All three sequences form mononucleosomes with similar gel mobilities and similar stabilities at moderate salt concentrations. However, the two promoter nucleosomes differ from 5S nucleosomes in (1) diffusion coefficient values, which suggest differences in nucleosome compaction, (2) intrinsic FRET efficiencies (in solution or in gels), and (3) the response of FRET efficiency to high (≥600 mM) NaCl concentrations, subnanomolar nucleosome concentrations, and elevated temperatures (to 42 °C). These results indicate that nucleosome features can vary depending on the DNA sequence they contain and show that this fluorescence approach is sufficiently sensitive to detect such differences. Sequence-dependent variations in nucleosome structure or stability could facilitate specific nucleosome recognition, working together with other known genomic regulatory mechanisms. The variations in salt-, concentration-, and temperature-dependent responses all occur under conditions that have been shown previously to produce release of H2A-H2B dimers or terminal DNA from nucleosomes and could thus involve differences in those processes, as well as in other features.
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