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Structure and dynamics of human interphase chromosome territories in vivo

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A new approach is presented which allows the in vivo visualization of individual chromosome territories in the nuclei of living human cells. The fluorescent thymidine analog Cy3-AP3-dUTP was microinjected into the nuclei of cultured human cells, such as human diploid fibroblasts, HeLa cells and neuroblastoma cells. The fluorescent analog was incorporated during S-phase into the replicating genomic DNA. Labelled cells were further cultivated for several cell cycles in normal medium. This well-known scheme yielded sister chromatid labelling. Random segregation of labelled and unlabelled chromatids into daughter nuclei resulted in nuclei exhibiting individual in vivo detectable chromatid territories. The territories were composed of subcompartments with diameters ranging between approximately 400 and 800 nm which we refer to as subchromosomal foci. Time-resolved in vivo studies demonstrated changes of positioning and shape of territories and subchromosomal foci. The hypothesis that subchromosomal foci persist as functionally distinct entities was supported by double labelling of chromatin with CldU and IdU, respectively, at early and late S-phase and subsequent cultivation of corresponding cells for 5–10 cell cycles before fixation and immunocytochemical detection. This scheme yielded segregated chromatid territories with distinctly separated subchromosomal foci composed of either early- or late-replicating chromatin. The size range of subchromosomal foci was similar after shorter (2 h) and longer (16 h) labelling periods and was observed in nuclei of both living and fixed cells, suggesting their structural identity. A possible functional relevance of chromosome territory compartmentalization into subchromosomal foci is discussed in the context of present models of interphase chromosome and nuclear architecture.

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Received: 10 November 1997 / Accepted: 24 November 1997

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Zink, D., Cremer, T., Saffrich, R. et al. Structure and dynamics of human interphase chromosome territories in vivo. Hum Genet 102, 241–251 (1998).

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