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Analysis of apoptosis by propidium iodide staining and flow cytometry


Since its introduction, the propidium iodide (PI) flow cytometric assay has been widely used for the evaluation of apoptosis in different experimental models. It is based on the principle that apoptotic cells, among other typical features, are characterized by DNA fragmentation and, consequently, loss of nuclear DNA content. Use of a fluorochrome, such as PI, that is capable of binding and labeling DNA makes it possible to obtain a rapid (the protocol can be completed in about 2 h) and precise evaluation of cellular DNA content by flow cytometric analysis, and subsequent identification of hypodiploid cells. The original protocol enhanced the capacity for a rapid, quantitative measure of cell apoptosis. For this reason, since its publication, the PI assay has been widely used, as demonstrated by the large number of citations of the original paper and/or the continuous use of the method in many laboratories.

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Figure 1: Measure of apoptotic thymocytes.
Figure 2: The quick method can be safely used with mouse thymocytes.

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This work was supported by Associazione Italiana Ricerca sul Cancro (AIRC, to CR), Milan, Italy.

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Correspondence to Carlo Riccardi.

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Riccardi, C., Nicoletti, I. Analysis of apoptosis by propidium iodide staining and flow cytometry. Nat Protoc 1, 1458–1461 (2006).

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