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Toxicol Lett. 1993 Apr;67(1-3):249-58.

Apoptosis of S-phase HL-60 cells induced by DNA topoisomerase inhibitors: detection of DNA strand breaks by flow cytometry using the in situ nick translation assay.

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Cancer Research Institute, New York Medical College, Valhalla 10523.


DNA topoisomerase I inhibitor camptothecin (CAM), topoisomerase II inhibitors teniposide (TN) and amsacrine (m-AMSA) induce apoptosis of HL-60 cells. One of the early events of apoptosis is DNA degradation, which occurs as a result of activation of the specific endonuclease. DNA strand breaks generated during this process were revealed, in the present study, by the in situ nick translation assay which was adapted to flow cytometry. In this assay, the incorporation of biotinylated dUTP by apoptotic cells was detected by the use of fluorescinated avidin, whereas simultaneous staining of DNA with propidium iodide made it possible to correlate the appearance of DNA strand breaks with cell position in the cell cycle. The breaks were detected as early as 90 min after the initial cell contact with CAM, and they were limited to cells in the S phase of the cell cycle. At that early stage of apoptosis DNA was not yet extractable from the cells; the loss of DNA from S-phase cells could not be seen, by flow cytometry, during the initial 2 h of incubation with CAM. DNA strand breaks induced by TN and m-AMSA also occurred preferentially in S-phase cells. The data indicate that DNA strand breaks resulting from activation of endonuclease in HL-60 cells treated with DNA topoisomerase I or II inhibitors can be conveniently measured using the in situ nick translation assay. This assay has certain advantages over other methods of identification of apoptotic cells by flow cytometry, such as providing direct evidence of DNA damage and offering the opportunity to correlate DNA damage with cell position in the cell cycle. The method may be of interest in clinical oncology where testing tumor response (by DNA degradation) to DNA topoisomerase inhibitors or other treatments may be of prognostic value.

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