The dynamic process of apoptosis analyzed by flow cytometry using Annexin-V/propidium iodide and a modified in situ end labeling technique




To study the apoptotic process in time, we used the following flow cytometric (FCM) techniques: phosphatidylserine (PS) translocation by Annexin-V (AnV), DNA fragmentation by in situ end labeling (ISEL), and propidium iodide (PI) staining. Because PS translocation is assumed to be an early feature of programmed cell death (PCD), we questioned if AnV positivity implies inevitable cell death.


Apoptosis was induced in Jurkat cells by γ-irradiation, incubation with camptothecin (CPT), or cytosine β-D-arabinofuranoside (Ara-C). At different time intervals, PCD was quantified by AnV/PI and ISEL. To analyze the influence of cell handling procedures on PCD, we applied these three FCM techniques on CD34+ bone marrow (BM) stem cells after selection and after a freeze-thaw procedure. Various AnV/PI− CD34+ fractions were cultured in a single-cell single-well (SCSW) assay.


Jurkat cells under three different detrimental conditions showed essentially the same pattern of apoptosis in time. Initially developed AnV+/PI− cells subsequently (within 1 h) showed ISEL positivity, after which they turned into AnV+/PI++ cells with even higher levels of ISEL positivity (80–90%). Eventually, they lost some of their PI and ISEL positivity and formed the AnV+/PI+ fraction. Cell handling of CD34+ cells caused high and variable AnV+/PI− fractions (overall range 23–62%). Within total AnV+ and AnV+/PI− populations, only a minority of CD34+ cells showed ISEL positivity (range 4–8% and 0.8–6%, respectively). Different fractions of AnV+/PI− CD34+ cells did have clonogenic capacity.


PCD of cell suspensions in vitro can be followed accurately in time by these three FCM techniques. PS translocation is followed rapidly (within 1 h) by oligo-nucleosomal DNA fragmentation, after which cell (and nuclear) membrane leakage occurs. Detection of PS asymmetry by AnV-fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) is not always associated with (inevitable) apoptosis, as can be concluded from the proliferative capacity of AnV+ /PI− CD34+ cells in the SCSW assay. Cytometry 47:24–31, 2002. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.