BACKGROUND: Apoptosis has a role in many cellular processes including development, normal tissue homeostasis, and malignancy. This aspect of research is relatively new with distinct methods of analysing disparate biochemical and genetic events to measure apoptotic cells. The use of biotinylated nucleotides to identify DNA strand breaks is a commonly reported method of estimating cells numbers undergoing apoptosis; however, investigators report inconsistent results for a variety of reasons. AIMS AND METHOD: To compare two in situ techniques of measuring apoptosis: in situ nick translation (ISNT) and TdT mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labelling (TUNEL); and to assess DNA cleavage in 20 paired paraffin wax embedded breast cancer tissues from patients; one group who had received no prior treatment and one group who had received chemohormonal treatment. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Apoptotic scores obtained from paraffin wax embedded human breast cancer after using ISNT and TUNEL methods were not significantly different (p = 0.11). A strong correlation between scores obtained from the two techniques was found (r = 0.758, p < 0.0001). Optimisation of both techniques is crucial to ensure maximal assay performance in breast cancer tissue.
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