Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Imaging DNA double-strand breaks — are we there yet?

DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are fundamental to cell biology, from evolution to the latest gene-editing technologies. Yet, does an assay exist that truly quantitatively visualizes DSBs? Over-reliance on DSB detection by proxies can misguide interpretation of conventional assays, and more faithful DSB representatives await development.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Scully, R. et al. DNA double-strand break repair-pathway choice in somatic mammalian cells. Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 20, 698–714 (2019).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Mah, L. J. et al. γH2AX: a sensitive molecular marker of DNA damage and repair. Leukemia 24, 679–686 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Rybak, P. et al. Low level phosphorylation of histone H2AX on serine 139 (γH2AX) is not associated with DNA double-strand breaks. Oncotarget 7, 49574–49587 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Onn, L. et al. SIRT6 is a DNA double-strand break sensor. eLife 9, e51636 (2020).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bouquet, F. et al. TGFbeta1 inhibition increases the radiosensitivity of breast cancer cells in vitro and promotes tumor control by radiation in vivo. Clin. Cancer Res. 17, 6754–6765 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Maciejowski, J. & de Lange, T. Telomeres in cancer: tumour suppression and genome instability. Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 18, 175–186 (2017).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Shee, C. et al. Engineered proteins detect spontaneous DNA breakage in human and bacterial cells. eLife 2, e01222 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Yang, X. et al. Roles of SIRT6 in kidney disease: a novel therapeutic target. Cell Mol. Life Sci. 79, 53 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Kordon, M. M. et al. STRIDE — a fluorescence method for direct, specific in situ detection of individual single- or double-strand DNA breaks in fixed cells. Nucleic Acids Res. 48, e14-e14 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Galbiati, A. et al. A novel single-cell method provides direct evidence of persistent DNA damage in senescent cells and aged mammalian tissues. Aging Cell 16, 422–427 (2017).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ivan Kempson.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Atkinson, J., Bezak, E. & Kempson, I. Imaging DNA double-strand breaks — are we there yet?. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol (2022).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing