In situ ligation: a decade and a half of experience

Methods Mol Biol. 2011;682:49-63. doi: 10.1007/978-1-60327-409-8_5.


The in situ ligation (ISL) methodology detects apoptotic cells by the presence of characteristic DNA double-strand breaks. A labeled double-stranded probe is ligated to the double-strand breaks in situ on tissue sections. Like the popular TUNEL assay, ISL detects cells in apoptosis based on the ongoing destruction of DNA by apoptotic nucleases. In comparison to TUNEL, it is more specific for apoptosis versus other causes of DNA damage, both repairable damage and necrosis. In the decade and a half since its introduction, ISL has been used in several hundred publications. Here we review the development of the method, its current status, and its uses and limitations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Polymerase I / metabolism
  • Genetic Techniques* / trends
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Molecular Probe Techniques* / trends


  • DNA Polymerase I