The simplified in situ ligation procedure is described. All reagents for the assay can be easily obtained in any molecular or cell biology laboratory. The technique uses ligation of double-stranded, PCR-derived DNA fragments labeled with digoxigenin or fluorophores for highly selective detection of apoptotic cells in paraffin-embedded tissue sections. Two types of DNA fragments prepared by PCR are employed. The fragment synthesized by Taq polymerase contains single-base 3' overhangs, whereas the Pfu polymerase-made fragment is blunt ended. Both fragments can be used as specific, sensitive and cost-effective DNA damage probes. After ligation to apoptotic nuclei in tissue sections, they indicate the presence of double-strand DNA breaks with single-base 3' overhangs as well as blunt ends.