DNA strand breaks which occur in HL-60 cells as a result of activation of endonuclease during apoptosis induced by cell treatment with the DNA topoisomerase I inhibitor camptothecin and topoisomerase II inhibitors teniposide, 4′-(9-acridinylamino)-3-methanesulfon-m-anisidide, and fostriecin were labeled in situ, in individual fixed and permeabilized cells, with biotinylated dUTP (detected by fluoresceinated avidin), using the terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase or nick translation assays. During the early stage of apoptosis, prior to nuclear fragmentation, the breaks were predominantly localized at the nuclear periphery, close to the nuclear envelope. In more advanced stages, all cellular DNA, then localized within the cell as dense, homogeneous granules of a variety of sizes, was strongly labeled, indicating extensive and more uniform distribution of breaks throughout genomic DNA. Bivariate analysis of the incorporated biotinylated dUTP and cellular DNA content by flow cytometry made it possible to estimate the kinetics of the labeling reaction and relate DNA breaks to cell position in the cycle. The kinetics of biotinylated dUTP incorporation was faster, and the distinction of cells with DNA breaks was more pronounced, using the terminal transferase rather than the nick translation assay. Camptothecin, teniposide, and 4′-(9-acridinylamino)-3-methanesulfon-m-anisidide induced DNA breaks preferentially in S-phase cells, having little effect on cells in the G1 phase of the cycle. In contrast, fostriecin affected cells indiscriminately, in all phases of the cell cycle. The method of detection of DNA strand breaks (3′-hydroxyl termini) individual cells offers several advantages and can be applied to clinical material (tumor biopsies) to study the induction of apoptosis in tumors during treatment, as a possible prognostic marker. The protein-associated DNA breaks in the “cleavable” DNA-topoisoerase complexes, which are the primary lesions induced by the inhibitors and precede apoptosis, were not detectable by the present methods.


Supported by USPHS Grant RO1 CA28704 and the Carl Inserra Fund. J. G. is a recipient of the fellowship established by the “This Close” Foundation for Cancer Research.

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