Journal of Visualized Experiments
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The regulation of cell proliferation is central to tissue morphogenesis during the development of multicellular organisms. Furthermore, loss of control of cell proliferation underlies the pathology of diseases like cancer. As such there is great need to be able to investigate cell proliferation and quantitate the proportion of cells in each phase of the cell cycle. It is also of vital importance to indistinguishably identify cells that are replicating their DNA within a larger population. Since a cell′s decision to proliferate is made in the G1 phase immediately before initiating DNA synthesis and progressing through the rest of the cell cycle, detection of DNA synthesis at this stage allows for an unambiguous determination of the status of growth regulation in cell culture experiments. DNA content in cells can be readily quantitated by flow cytometry of cells stained with propidium iodide, a fluorescent DNA intercalating dye. Similarly, active DNA synthesis can be quantitated by culturing cells in the presence of radioactive thymidine, harvesting the cells, and measuring the incorporation of radioactivity into an acid insoluble fraction. We have considerable expertise with cell cycle analysis and recommend a different approach. We Investigate cell proliferation using bromodeoxyuridine/fluorodeoxyuridine (abbreviated simply as BrdU) staining that detects the incorporation of these thymine analogs into recently synthesized DNA. Labeling and staining cells with BrdU, combined with total DNA staining by propidium iodide and analysis by flow cytometry1 offers the most accurate measure of cells in the various stages of the cell cycle. It is our preferred method because it combines the detection of active DNA synthesis, through antibody based staining of BrdU, with total DNA content from propidium iodide. This allows for the clear separation of cells in G1 from early S phase, or late S phase from G2/M. Furthermore, this approach can be utilized to investigate the effects of many different cell stimuli and pharmacologic agents on the regulation of progression through these different cell cycle phases. In this report we describe methods for labeling and staining cultured cells, as well as their analysis by flow cytometry. We also include experimental examples of how this method can be used to measure the effects of growth inhibiting signals from cytokines such as TGF-β1, and proliferative inhibitors such as the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor, p27KIP1. We also include an alternate protocol that allows for the analysis of cell cycle position in a sub-population of cells within a larger culture5. In this case, we demonstrate how to detect a cell cycle arrest in cells transfected with the retinoblastoma gene even when greatly outnumbered by untransfected cells in the same culture. These examples illustrate the many ways that DNA staining and flow cytometry can be utilized and adapted to investigate fundamental questions of mammalian cell cycle control. © 2012 Creative Commons Attribution License.