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An overview of apoptosis assays detecting DNA fragmentation


Apoptosis has been recognized as a type of programmed cell death connected with characteristic morphological and biochemical changes in cells. This programmed cell death plays an important role in the genesis of a number of physiological and pathological processes. Thus, it can be very important to detect the signs of apoptosis in a study of cellular metabolism. The present paper provides an overview of methods often being used for detecting DNA fragmentation as one of the most specific findings in apoptosis. To date, three routine assays have been developed for detecting DNA fragmentation: DNA ladder assay, TUNEL assay, and comet assay. All these methods differ in their principles for detecting DNA fragmentation. DNA ladder assay detects the characteristic “DNA ladder” pattern formed during internucleosomal cleavage of DNA. Terminal deoxynUcleotidyl transferase Nick-End Labeling (TUNEL) assay detects DNA strand breaks using terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase catalyzing attachment of modified deoxynucleotides on the DNA strand breaks. Comet assay can be used for detecting nucleus breakdown producing single/double-strand DNA breaks. The aim of this review is to describe the present knowledge on these three methods, including optimized approaches, techniques, and limitations.

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Correspondence to Tomáš Roušar.

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Majtnerová, P., Roušar, T. An overview of apoptosis assays detecting DNA fragmentation. Mol Biol Rep 45, 1469–1478 (2018).

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  • Apoptosis
  • DNA fragmentation
  • Apoptosis assays
  • DNA ladder
  • TUNEL assay
  • Comet assay