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Mutat Res. 1997 Apr 29;375(2):183-93.

The comet assay: what can it really tell us?

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Rowett Research Institute, Bucksburn. Aberdeen, UK.


A range of applications of the alkaline comet assay is covered, from investigations of the physicochemical behaviour of DNA, through studies of cellular responses to DNA damage, to biomonitoring of human populations. The underlying principles of this assay are discussed, and new evidence presented which supports the concept of relaxation of supercoiled loops, rather than alkaline unwinding, as the primary reason for comet tail formation. DNA-damaging agents that do not induce strand breaks directly can be detected when cellular repair processes convert lesions to transient strand breaks; an approach is outlined here which maximises this effect and thus widens the scope of the assay. Purified repair enzymes, applied to DNA during the course of the comet assay procedure, greatly increase the sensitivity and specificity of the assay; recent developments with formamidopyrimidine glycosylase (recognising 8-OH-gua and other damaged purines) and uvrABC (for bulky lesions) are presented. The kinetics of cellular repair after low doses of oxidative damage have been followed with this modified comet assay. Finally, the successful measurement of biomarkers of oxidative damage in human populations establishes the comet assay as a valuable tool in molecular epidemiology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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