Imaging of nucleosomal arrays by atomic force microscopy allows a determination of the exact statistical distributions for the numbers of nucleosomes per array and the locations of nucleosomes on the arrays. This precision makes such data an excellent reference for testing models of nucleosome occupation on multisite DNA templates. The approach presented here uses a simple statistical thermodynamic model to calculate theoretical population and positional distributions and compares them to experimental distributions previously determined for 5S rDNA nucleosomal arrays (208-12, 172-12). The model considers the possible locations of nucleosomes on the template, and takes as principal parameters an average free energy of interaction between histone octamers and DNA, and an average wrapping length of DNA around the octamers. Analysis of positional statistics shows that it is possible to consider interactions between nucleosomes and positioning effects as perturbations on a random positioning noninteracting model. Analysis of the population statistics is used to determine histone-DNA association constants and to test for differences in the free energies of nucleosome formation with different types of histone octamers, namely acetylated or unacetylated, and different DNA templates, namely 172-12 or 208-12 5S rDNA multisite templates. The results show that the two template DNAs bind histones with similar affinities but histone acetylation weakens the association of histones with both templates. Analysis of locational statistics is used to determine the strength of specific nucleosome positioning tendencies by the DNA templates, and the strength of the interactions between neighboring nucleosomes. The results show only weak positioning tendencies and that unacetylated nucleosomes interact much more strongly with one another than acetylated nucleosomes; in fact acetylation appears to induce a small anticooperative occupation effect between neighboring nucleosomes.
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