Relationships between DNA fragmentation, chromatin condensation, and changes in flow cytometry profiles detected during apoptosis

Exp Cell Res. 1995 Apr;217(2):506-16. doi: 10.1006/excr.1995.1116.


The determination of whether a cell dies by apoptosis as opposed to necrosis is usually best made on the basis of distinct structural changes in the chromatin. These changes include extensive condensation of the chromatin and DNA fragmentation. We have shown that the cytotoxic drug bleomycin (BLM) is able to cleave the DNA between the nucleosomes when it enters into the cell. If sufficient amounts of BLM are internalized, the nuclear morphological changes characteristic of apoptosis are detected. In this work, we describe the nuclear changes that occurred after DNA fragmentation as a function of the number of DNA double-strand breaks generated per cell and of the time after their generation. Our results show that DNA fragmentation and degradation of higher-order DNA structure were directly responsible for the nuclear morphological changes associated with apoptosis. During apoptosis reduced fluorescence with respect to the G0/G1 cell cycle region (the sub-G1 region) is often detected if fixed cells from cultures undergoing apoptosis are analyzed by flow cytometry. We demonstrate here that, depending on the extent of the DNA fragmentation and on ulterior changes in chromatin structure, the content of the fluorescent sub-G1 region can be either soluble pieces of DNA or apoptotic bodies or cells depleted in the DNA content by partial loss of fragmented DNA dissolved in the washing media and/or by the release of apoptotic bodies.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Bleomycin / pharmacology
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Membrane Permeability
  • Chromatin / pathology*
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • DNA / drug effects
  • DNA Damage*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Microscopy, Confocal


  • Chromatin
  • Bleomycin
  • DNA