Bromodeoxyuridine induces senescence in neural stem and progenitor cells

Stem Cells. 2008 Dec;26(12):3218-27. doi: 10.1634/stemcells.2008-0299. Epub 2008 Sep 18.


Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) is a halogenated pyrimidine that incorporates into newly synthesized DNA during the S phase. BrdU is used ubiquitously in cell birthdating studies and as a means of measuring the proliferative index of various cell populations. In the absence of secondary stressors, BrdU is thought to incorporate relatively benignly into replicating DNA chains. However, we report here that a single, low-dose pulse of BrdU exerts a profound and sustained antiproliferative effect in cultured murine stem and progenitor cells. This is accompanied by altered terminal differentiation, cell morphology, and protein expression consistent with the induction of senescence. There is no evidence of a significant increase in spontaneous cell death; however, cells are rendered resistant to chemically induced apoptosis. Finally, we show that a brief in vivo BrdU regimen reduces the proliferative potential of subsequently isolated subependymal zone neurosphere-forming cells. We conclude, therefore, that BrdU treatment induces a senescence pathway that causes a progressive decline in the replication of rapidly dividing stem/progenitor cells, suggesting a novel and uncharacterized effect of BrdU. This finding is significant in that BrdU-incorporating neural stem/progenitor cells and their progeny should not be expected to behave normally with respect to proliferative potential and downstream functional parameters. This effect highlights the need for caution when results based on long-term BrdU tracking over multiple rounds of replication are interpreted. Conversely, the reliable induction of senescence in stem/progenitor cells in vitro and in vivo may yield a novel platform for molecular studies designed to address multiple aspects of aging and neurogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Bromodeoxyuridine / pharmacology*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Time Factors
  • beta-Galactosidase / metabolism


  • beta-Galactosidase
  • Bromodeoxyuridine