Morphological characterization by microscopy remains the gold standard for accurately identifying apoptotic cells using characteristics such as nuclear condensation, nuclear fragmentation, and membrane blebbing. However, quantitative measurement of apoptotic morphology using microscopy can be time consuming and can lack objectivity and reproducibility, making it difficult to identify subtle changes in large populations. Thus the apoptotic index of a sample is commonly measured by flow cytometry using a variety of fluorescence intensity based (photometric) assays which target hallmarks of apoptosis with secondary markers such as the TUNEL (Terminal Deoxynucleotide Transferase dUTP Nick End Labeling) assay for detection of DNA fragmentation, the Annexin V assay for surface phosphatidylserine (PS) exposure, and fluorogenic caspase substrates to detect caspase activation. Here a novel method is presented for accurate quantitation of apoptosis based on nuclear condensation, nuclear fragmentation, and membrane blebbing using automated image analysis on large numbers of images collected in flow by the ImageStream multispectral imaging cytometer. Additionally the measurement of nuclear fragmentation correlates with the secondary methods of detection of apoptosis over time, indicating that it is also an early marker for apoptosis. False-positive and false-negative events associated with each photometric flow cytometry based method are quantitated and can be automatically removed/included where appropriate. Acquisition of multi-spectral imagery on large numbers of cells couples the quantitative advantage of flow cytometry with the accuracy of morphology-based algorithms allowing more complete and robust analysis of apoptosis.
Chromatin condensation Nuclear fragmentation DNA fragmentation Quantitative apoptotic index Nuclear condensation Annexin V Caspase substrate TUNEL