This study was undertaken to develop technology for the detection of nucleic acid using two different DNA probe reporter molecules, the ultimate aim being to differentially label two nucleic acids within the same nucleus. Digoxigenin and biotin were used to label DNA probes. The absolute and relative sensitivity of digoxigenin and biotin labelled DNA probes for detecting integrated human papilloma virus 16 (HPV16) was investigated in CaSki cells by non-isotopic in situ hybridisation (NISH). Several methods for the detection of labelled probes were also investigated. The optimal sensitivity of digoxigenin labelled probe was equivalent to that of biotin when alkaline phosphatase was used as the final detector. The median number of discrete viral signals discernible in each cell with the most sensitive detection system was seven to eight with both labelled probes. The average number of HPV16 genomes in each CaSki cell, derived by dot blot hybridisation, was about 270. The calculated absolute sensitivity of NISH for viral detection in this system is complex because of variation of signal size and number. Nevertheless, one signal per nucleus equates to as little as 30 to 40 viral copies, and probably much less. The ability to distinguish up to 15 discrete signals with both digoxigenin and biotin labelled probes in the nuclei of CaSki cells indicates that these methods will be useful in interphase cytogenetics in material routinely fixed in aldehyde.
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