Nucleosomal histone protein protects DNA from iron-mediated damage

Helen U. Enright, Wesley J Miller, Robert P Hebbel

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83 Scopus citations


Iron promotes DNA damage by catalyzing hydroxyl radical formation. We examined the effect of chromatin structure on DNA susceptibility to oxidant damage. Oxygen radicals generated by H2O2, ascorbate and iron-ADP (1:2 ratio of Fe2+:ADP) extensively and randomly fragmented protein-free DNA, with double-strand breaks demonstrable even at 1μM iron. In contrast, polynucleosomes from chicken erythrocytes were converted to nucleosome-sized fragments by iron-ADP even up to 250μM Iron. Cleavage occurred only in bare areas where DNA is unassociated with histone. In confirmation, reassembly of nucleosomes from calf thymus DNA and chicken erythrocyte histone also yielded nucleosomes resistant to fragmentation. Protection of DNA by histone was dependent on nucleosome assembly and did not simply reflect presence of scavenging protein. In contrast to this specific cleavage of internucleosomal linker DNA by iron-ADP, iron-EDTA cleaved polynucleosomes indiscriminately at all sites. The hydroxyl radical scavenger thiourea completely inhibited the random cleavage of polynucleosomes by iron-EDTA but inhibited the nonrandom cleavage of polynucleosomes by iron-ADP less completely, suggesting the possibility that the lower affinity iron-ADP chelate may allow association of free iron with DNA. Thus, oxygen radicals generated by iron-ADP indiscriminately cleaved naked DNA but cleaved chromatin preferentially at internucleosomal bare linker sites, perhaps because of nonrandom iron binding by DNA. These findings suggest that the DNA-damaging effects of iron may be nonrandom, site-directed and modified by histone protein.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3341-3346
Number of pages6
JournalNucleic acids research
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 11 1992

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by the National Institutes of Health (HL30160) and an American Society of Hematology Scholar Award to H.U.E.


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