This study provides a three-dimensional (3D) analysis of differences between the 3D morphology of active and inactive human X interphase chromosomes (Xa and Xi territories). Chromosome territories were painted in formaldehyde-fixed, three-dimensionally intact human diploid female amniotic fluid cell nuclei (46, XX) with X-specific whole chromosome compositive probes. The colocalization of a 4,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole dihydrochloride-stained Barr body with one of the two painted X territories allowed the unequivocal discrimination of the inactive X from its active counterpart. Light optical serial sections were obtained with a confocal laser scanning microscope. 3D-reconstructed Xa territories revealed a flatter shape and exhibited a larger and more irregular surface when compared to the apparently smoother surface and rounder shape of Xi territories. The relationship between territory surface and volume was quantified by the determination of a dimensionless roundness factor (RF). RF and surface area measurements showed a highly significant difference between Xa and Xi territories (P < 0.001) in contrast to volume differences (P > 0.1). For comparison with an autosome of similar DNA content, chromosome 7 territories were additionally painted. The 3D morphology of the chromosome 7 territories was similar to the Xa territory but differed strongly from the Xi territory with respect to RF and surface area (P < 0.001).

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