Extremely mild treatment with micrococcal nuclease of isolated nuclei yields subnuclear fractions in which the majority of RNA polymerase II transcriptional complexes formed in vivo are segregated [Tata & Baker (1978) J. Mol. Biol. 118, 249-272]. We now describe different approaches followed to established whether or not the nuclei are thus resolved into transcribed and non-transcribed DNA. First, we have compared the sensitivity to deoxyribonuclease I, which is known to digest preferably expressed genes as present in nuclei or chromatin, of three micrococcal-nuclease-derived fractions from nuclei of different transcriptional activities. In transcriptionally active nuclei (rat liver, hen liver and oviduct, and Xenopus liver), the DNA in a polynucleosomal fraction comprising 6-15% of DNA and the majority of template-engaged RNA polymerase II (fraction P2) was 10-50 times as sensitive to deoxyribonuclease I as the DNA in the other two fractions (fractions P1 and S, comprising 78-88% of total nuclear DNA as large polynucleosomal aggregates and 2-6% of DNA mostly as mononucleosomes, respectively). In transcriptionally inactive nuclei obtained from hen erythrocytes, micrococcal nuclease did not separate DNA into fractions exhibiting such differential sensitivities. Second, we have monitored the partition of an expressed gene. Hybridization of complementary DNA to Xenopus albumin mRNA revealed a 5-10-fold enrichment of the albumin (but not the globin) gene in the P2 fraction of nuclei from Xenopus liver in which this gene is fully expressed. Third, a large part of the nascent rapidly labelled RNA synthesized in vivo in rat liver nuclei was recovered in the micrococcal-nuclease-derived fraction that is more susceptible to digestion with deoxyribonuclease I. It is concluded that mild micrococcal-nuclease treatment of nuclei causes their separation into transcribed and non-transcribed DNA as determined by a number of very different criteria.

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