Chromatin organization and dynamics is studied at scales ranging from single nucleosome to nucleosomal array by using a unique combination of biochemical assays, single molecule imaging technique, and numerical modeling. We show that a subtle modification in the nucleosome structure induced by the histone variant H2A.Bbd drastically modifies the higher order organization of the nucleosomal arrays. Importantly, as directly visualized by atomic force microscopy, conventional H2A nucleosomal arrays exhibit specific local organization, in contrast to H2A.Bbd arrays, which show "beads on a string" structure. The combination of systematic image analysis and theoretical modeling allows a quantitative description relating the observed gross structural changes of the arrays to their local organization. Our results suggest strongly that higher-order organization of H1-free nucleosomal arrays is determined mainly by the fluctuation properties of individual nucleosomes. Moreover, numerical simulations suggest the existence of attractive interactions between nucleosomes to provide the degree of compaction observed for conventional chromatin fibers.
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