Flow cytometric detection of apoptosis: comparison of the assays of in situ DNA degradation and chromatin changes

Cytometry. 1994 Mar 1;15(3):237-44. doi: 10.1002/cyto.990150309.


The aim of this study was to compare three methods of detection of apoptotic cells: (1) the method based on elution of low molecular weight DNA from the ethanol fixed cells followed by cell staining with DAPI (diamidino-2-phenylindole) or propidium iodide as the DNA fluorochromes, (2) the method of in situ labeling of DNA strand breaks with biotinylated dUTP, utilizing exogenous terminal deoxyribonucleotide transferase, and (3) the method of analysis of DNA denaturation in situ using acridine orange to differentially stain denatured and double-stranded DNA sections following cell exposure to 0.1 M HCl. Cells of the human promyelocytic HL-60 line, treated in vitro with the DNA topoisomerase I inhibitor camptothecin, which selectively triggers apoptosis of S-phase cells, were chosen as a model. The method based on analysis of changes in DNA denaturability was the most sensitive in terms of detection of the earliest changes in chromatin of cells undergoing apoptosis; the increased sensitivity of DNA to denaturation in S-phase cells was measured as early as 100 min after addition of camptothecin. DNA cleavage, assayed either by the univariate measurement of DNA content following extraction of low molecular weight DNA, or by labeling DNA strand breaks with biotinylated dUTP, was detected in S-phase cells after 120 min incubation with camptothecin. The percentage of apoptotic cells at the late stage of apoptosis, the kinetics of cell transition to apoptosis, and kinetics of the loss of S phase cells were all essentially similar when measured by any method.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Camptothecin / pharmacology
  • Chromosomes / metabolism*
  • Chromosomes / ultrastructure
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA, Neoplasm / analysis
  • DNA, Neoplasm / genetics
  • DNA, Neoplasm / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • G1 Phase
  • Humans
  • Indoles
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / genetics
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / pathology
  • Propidium
  • S Phase
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • DNA, Neoplasm
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Indoles
  • Propidium
  • DAPI
  • Camptothecin