Background: The neutral comet assay was devised to measure double-stranded DNA breaks, but it has also been used to measure apoptosis based on its characteristic DNA fragmentation patterns. There is still uncertainty about the reliability of this method. By comparing the comet assay with a flow cytometry method that uses Annexin V binding to apoptotic cells, we have provided further evidence for evaluating the usefulness of the comet assay for detecting apoptosis. Methods: Apoptosis was induced in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) by ionizing radiation and measured using the comet assay and a flow cytometry method that measures Annexin V and propidium iodide (PI) staining. Results: The Annexin V flow cytometry assay distinguished among early apoptosis, late apoptosis, and an apoptotic or necrotic phase in which the cells were labeled with both Annexin V and PI. The comet assay detected only the latter two phases of apoptosis. Conclusions: The comet assay is a useful tool for measuring the late stages of apoptosis whereas the Annexin V assay measures higher amounts of apoptosis because it can detect cells in an earlier stage of the apoptotic pathway.

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Keywords Annexin V, Apoptosis, Comet assay, Flow cytometry, Human lymphocytes, Propidium iodide, Radiation
Persistent URL
Journal Cytometry
Wilkins, R.C, Kutzner, B.C. (B. C.), Truong, M. (M.), Sanchez-Dardon, J. (J.), & McLean, J.R.N. (J. R.N.). (2002). Analysis of radiation-induced apoptosis in human lymphocytes: Flow cytometry using Annexin V and propidium iodide versus the neutral comet assay. Cytometry, 48(1), 14–19. doi:10.1002/cyto.10098