Lipofection and nucleofection of substrate plasmid can generate widely different readings of DNA end-joining efficiency in different cell lines

DNA Repair (Amst). 2013 Feb 1;12(2):148-60. doi: 10.1016/j.dnarep.2012.11.008. Epub 2013 Jan 1.


In vivo plasmid end-joining assays are valuable tools for dissecting important qualitative and quantitative aspects of non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ)--a key mechanism for the repair of DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in higher eukaryotes. They enable the use of defined DNA ends as substrates for end-joining and the analysis by sequencing of the resulting junctions to identify the repair pathways engaged. Yet, plasmid assays have generated divergent results of end-joining capacity in the same DSB repair mutants when used under different conditions, which implies contributions from undefined and therefore uncontrolled parameters. To help standardize these assays, we searched for parameters underpinning these variations and identified transfection method as an important determinant. Here, we compare a lipid-based transfection method, lipofection, with an electroporation method, nucleofection, and find large, unanticipated and cell line-dependent differences in percent end-joining without recognizable trends. For example, in rodent cells, transfection using lipofection gives nearly WT end-joining in DNA-PKcs mutants and only mildly inhibited end-joining in Lig4 and Ku mutants. In contrast, transfection using nucleofection shows marked end-joining inhibition in all NHEJ mutants tested as compared to the WT. In human HCT116 cells, end-joining after nucleofection is strongly suppressed even in the WT and the differences to the mutants are small. After lipofection, in contrast, end-joining is high in WT cells and markedly suppressed in the mutants. We conclude that better understanding and control of the physicochemical/biological and analytical parameters underpinning these differences will be required to generate with plasmid assays results with quantitative power comparable to that of well-established methods of DSB analysis such as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis or γ-H2AX foci scoring. Until then, caution is needed in the interpretation of the results obtained - particularly with reference to pathway efficiency and residual damage - and confirmation of critical results with alternative transfection approaches is advisable.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded
  • DNA End-Joining Repair*
  • DNA, Circular / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Plasmids / genetics*
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Species Specificity
  • Transfection*


  • DNA, Circular