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Cell Tissue Res. 2005 Nov;322(2):257-67. Epub 2005 Nov 3.

Nuclear patterns of human breast cancer cells during apoptosis: characterisation by fractal dimension and co-occurrence matrix statistics.

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  • 1Institute for Scientific Interdisciplinary Studies, Via F. Rusca 1, P.O. Box 1132, 6600 Locarno, Switzerland.


An analytical strategy combining fractal geometry and grey-level co-occurrence matrix (GLCM) statistics was devised to investigate ultrastructural changes in oestrogen-insensitive SK-BR3 human breast cancer cells undergoing apoptosis in vitro. Apoptosis was induced by 1 microM calcimycin (A23187 Ca(2+) ionophore) and assessed by measuring conventional cellular parameters during the culture period. SK-BR3 cells entered the early stage of apoptosis within 24 h of treatment with calcimycin, which induced detectable changes in nuclear components, as documented by increased values of most GLCM parameters and by the general reduction of the fractal dimensions. In these affected cells, morphonuclear traits were accompanied by the reduction of distinct gangliosides and loss of unidentifiable glycolipid molecules at the cell surface. All these changes were shown to be involved in apoptosis before the detection of conventional markers, which were only measurable during the active phases of apoptotic cell death. In overtly apoptotic cells treated with 1 microM calcimycin for 72 h, most nuclear components underwent dramatic ultrastructural changes, including marginalisation and condensation of chromatin, as reflected in a significant reduction of their fractal dimensions. Hence, both fractal and GLCM analyses confirm that the morphological reorganisation of nuclei, attributable to a loss of structural complexity, occurs early in apoptosis.

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