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The observation of the local ordering characteristics of spermidine-condensed DNA: atomic force microscopy and polarizing microscopy studies.

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Condensation of DNA by multivalent cations can provide useful insights into the physical factors governing the folding and packaging of DNA in vivo. In this work, local ordered structures of spermidine-DNA complexes prepared from different DNA concentrations have been examined by using atomic force microscopy (AFM) and polarizing microscopy (PM). Two types (I and II) of DNA condensates, significantly different in sizes, were observed. It was found that for extremely dilute solutions (DNA concentrations around 1 ng/microl or below), the DNA molecules would collapse into toroidal structures with a volume equivalent to a single lambda-DNA (type I). In relatively dilute solutions (DNA concentrations between 1 and 10 ng/microll), a significantly larger structure of multimolecular toroids (circular and elliptical, type II) were formed, which were constructed by many fine particles. Measurements show that the average diameter of these fine particles was similar to the outer diameter of the monomolecular toroids observed in extremely dilute solutions, and the thickness of the multimolecular toroids had a distribution of multi-layers with height increments of 11 nm, indicating that the multimolecular toroidal structures have lamellar characteristics. Moreover, by enriching the DNA-spermidine complexes in very diluted solution, branch-like structures constructed by subunits were observed by using AFM. The analysis of the pellets in polarizing microscopy reveals a liquid-crystal-like pattern. These observations suggest that DNA-spermidine condensation could have multiple stages, which are very sensitive to the DNA and spermidine concentrations.


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