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Methods Cell Biol. 1998;57:251-64.

Measurement of cell death.

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Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute, Princeton, New Jersey 08543, USA.


Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a physiological form of cell death that plays a critical role in the development and maintenance of multicellular organisms. Apoptosis is characterized based on morphological and biochemical criteria. Morphological characteristics include cell shrinkage, cytoplasmic condensation, chromatin segregation and condensation, membrane blebbing, and the formation of membrane-bound apoptotic bodies, whereas the biochemical hallmark of apoptosis is internucleosomal DNA cleavage into oligonucleosome-length fragments. A great deal of research is aimed at defining the molecular mechanisms that play a role in apoptosis. As one of the common end points of experiments related to apoptosis is in fact the death of the cell, it has become important to develop reliable assays to measure cell death that may be compared among the various systems being investigated. This chapter reviews many of the current methods used to measure apoptotic cell death and points out strengths and weaknesses of each approach with respect to the system being examined and the questions being asked. Traditional cell-based methods, including light and electron microscopy, vital dyes, and nuclear stains, are described. Biochemical methods such as DNA laddering, lactate dehydrogenase enzyme release, and MTT/XTT enzyme activity are described as well. Additionally, terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labeling of DNA fragments (TUNEL) and in situ end labeling (ISEL) techniques are reviewed, which when used in conjunction with standard flow cytometric staining methods may yield informative data relating cell death to various cellular parameters, including cell cycle and cell phenotype. The use of one or more of the methods described in this chapter for measuring cell death should enable investigators to accurately assess apoptosis in the context of the various models being examined and help define causal relationships between the mechanisms that regulate apoptosis and the cell death event itself.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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