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Cytometry A. 2011 Jun;79(6):470-6. doi: 10.1002/cyto.a.21060.

Cell fixation in zinc salt solution is compatible with DNA damage response detection by phospho-specific antibodies.

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Department of Pathology, Brander Cancer Research Institute, New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York 10595, USA.


By virtue of superior preservation of proteins and nucleic acids the zinc salt-based fixatives (ZBF) has been proposed as an alternative to precipitants and cross-linking fixatives in histopathology. It was recently reported that ZBF is compatible with analysis of cell surface immunophenotype and detection of intracellular epitopes by flow cytometry. The aim of this study was to explore whether ZBF is also compatible with the detection of DNA damage response assessed by phospho-specific antibodies (Abs) detecting phosphorylation of the key proteins of that pathway. DNA damage in human pulmonary adenocarcinoma A549 cells was induced by treatment with the DNA topoisomerase I inhibitor camptothecin and phosphorylation of histone H2AX on Ser139 (γH2AX) and of ATM on Ser1981 was detected with phospho-specific Abs; cellular fluorescence was measured by laser scanning cytometry (LSC). The sensitivity and accuracy of detection of H2AX and ATM phosphorylation concurrent with the detection of DNA replication by EdU incorporation and "click chemistry" was found in ZBF fixed cells to be comparable to that of cell fixed in formaldehyde. The accuracy of DNA content measurement as evident from the resolution of DNA content frequency histograms of cells stained with DAPI was somewhat better in ZBF- than in formaldehyde-fixed cells. The pattern of chromatin condensation revealed by the intensity of maximal pixel of DAPI that allows one to identify mitotic and immediately post-mitotic cells by LSC was preserved after ZBF fixation. ZBF fixation was also compatible with the detection of γH2AX foci considered to be the hallmarks of induction of DNA double-strand breaks. Analysis of cells by flow cytometry revealed that ZBF fixation of lymphoblastoid TK6 cells led to about 60 and 33% higher intensity of the side and forward light scatter, respectively, compared to formaldehyde fixed cells.

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