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Mutat Res. 2011 Feb 28;720(1-2):14-21. doi: 10.1016/j.mrgentox.2010.11.011. Epub 2010 Dec 8.

Visual estimation of the percentage of DNA in the tail in the comet assay: evaluation of different approaches in an intercomparison exercise.

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Centro de Protección e Higiene de las Radiaciones, 11300 La Habana, Cuba.


One of the difficulties in the comparison of results between laboratories working with the comet assay is the great diversity of parameters used to express DNA damage and the lack of conversion factors between the majority of them. Here we report a scorer-independent conversion curve to transform the values of DNA damage reported in arbitrary units (AU) into estimated percentage of DNA in the tail (E%T), and the results obtained in an intercomparison exercise where the effectiveness of this curve and two others proposed in the literature (E%T=AU/4 and E%T=(AU/5)+10) were tested. To obtain the conversion curve, human lymphocytes were first treated with radiation or H(2)O(2). Percentage of DNA in tail (%T) was then measured in 2100 comets (300 comets per treatment) using Casp image analysis software. Subsequently, using these values of %T, categories of 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 were assigned to comets with %T [0-1), [1-25), [25-45), [45-70), and >70, and DNA damage was calculated in AU, as usual. DNA damage was induced in the interval 24-315AU (1.54-65.23%T). The best-fit conversion curve obtained by regression analysis was E%T=(AU-25.87)/4.46. In the intercomparison exercise, ten scorers from nine laboratories analyzed the same comet images (recorded on a compact disc) visually. The values reported in comet categories were transformed into AU and subsequently into E%T, using the three approaches mentioned above. The best agreement between E%T and %T measured by the software (S%T) was obtained with the conversion curve reported here, where the slope of E%T versus S%T from the ten scorers was not different from 1. Using this conversion curve, the overall mean difference between E%T and S%T was 1.4±2.62 and 57 (81%) of E%T values differ from S%T by less than 5 units. These findings show the strength of the scorer-independent conversion curve as a tool to compare results reported in AU or %T by different laboratories.

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