Probing the structure and dynamics of nucleosomes using atomic force microscopy imaging

Micah P. Stumme-Diers, Tommy Stormberg, Zhiqiang Sun, Yuri L. Lyubchenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Chromatin, which is a long chain of nucleosome subunits, is a dynamic system that allows for such critical processes as DNA replication and transcription to take place in eukaryotic cells. The dynamics of nucleosomes provides access to the DNA by replication and transcription machineries, and critically contributes to the molecular mechanisms underlying chromatin functions. Single-molecule studies such as atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging have contributed significantly to our current understanding of the role of nucleosome structure and dynamics. The current protocol describes the steps enabling high-resolution AFM imaging techniques to study the structural and dynamic properties of nucleosomes. The protocol is illustrated by AFM data obtained for the centromere nucleosomes in which H3 histone is replaced with its counterpart centromere protein A (CENP-A). The protocol starts with the assembly of mono-nucleosomes using a continuous dilution method. The preparation of the mica substrate functionalized with aminopropyl silatrane (APS-mica) that is used for the nucleosome imaging is critical for the AFM visualization of nucleosomes described and the procedure to prepare the substrate is provided. Nucleosomes deposited on the APS-mica surface are first imaged using static AFM, which captures a snapshot of the nucleosome population. From analyses of these images, such parameters as the size of DNA wrapped around the nucleosomes can be measured and this process is also detailed. The time-lapse AFM imaging procedure in the liquid is described for the high-speed time-lapse AFM that can capture several frames of nucleosome dynamics per second. Finally, the analysis of nucleosome dynamics enabling the quantitative characterization of the dynamic processes is described and illustrated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere58820
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number143
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • AFM
  • Biochemistry
  • Chromatin
  • DNA
  • Dynamics
  • Epigenetics
  • Histones
  • Imaging
  • Issue 143
  • Nucleosome
  • Single - molecule
  • Structure
  • Time-lapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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