The in vitro MN assay in 2011: origin and fate, biological significance, protocols, high throughput methodologies and toxicological relevance

Arch Toxicol. 2011 Aug;85(8):873-99. doi: 10.1007/s00204-011-0691-4. Epub 2011 May 3.


Micronuclei (MN) are small, extranuclear bodies that arise in dividing cells from acentric chromosome/chromatid fragments or whole chromosomes/chromatids lagging behind in anaphase and are not included in the daughter nuclei at telophase. The mechanisms of MN formation are well understood; their possible postmitotic fate is less evident. The MN assay allows detection of both aneugens and clastogens, shows simplicity of scoring, is widely applicable in different cell types, is internationally validated, has potential for automation and is predictive for cancer. The cytokinesis-block micronucleus assay (CBMN) allows assessment of nucleoplasmic bridges, nuclear buds, cell division inhibition, necrosis and apoptosis and in combination with FISH using centromeric probes, the mechanistic origin of the MN. Therefore, the CBMN test can be considered as a "cytome" assay covering chromosome instability, mitotic dysfunction, cell proliferation and cell death. The toxicological relevance of the MN test is strong: it covers several endpoints, its sensitivity is high, its predictivity for in vivo genotoxicity requires adequate selection of cell lines, its statistical power is increased by the recently available high throughput methodologies, it might become a possible candidate for replacing in vivo testing, it allows good extrapolation for potential limits of exposure or thresholds and it is traceable in experimental in vitro and in vivo systems. Implementation of in vitro MN assays in the test battery for hazard and risk assessment of potential mutagens/carcinogens is therefore fully justified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / methods
  • Humans
  • Micronuclei, Chromosome-Defective / drug effects
  • Micronucleus Tests / methods*
  • Mutagens / toxicity*
  • Risk Assessment / methods


  • Carcinogens
  • Mutagens