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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

A simple technique for quantifying apoptosis in 96-well plates

Deborah Ribble, Nathaniel B Goldstein, David A Norris and Yiqun G Shellman*

Author Affiliations

UCHSC at Fitzsimons, Dermatology Department, Mail Stop #8127, PO Box 6511, Aurora, CO 80045, USA

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BMC Biotechnology 2005, 5:12  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-5-12

Published: 10 May 2005



Analyzing apoptosis has been an integral component of many biological studies. However, currently available methods for quantifying apoptosis have various limitations including multiple, sometimes cell-damaging steps, the inability to quantify live, necrotic and apoptotic cells at the same time, and non-specific detection (i.e. "false positive"). To overcome the shortcomings of current methods that quantify apoptosis in vitro and to take advantage of the 96-well plate format, we present here a modified ethidium bromide and acridine orange (EB/AO) staining assay, which may be performed entirely in a 96-well plate. Our method combines the advantages of the 96-well format and the conventional EB/AO method for apoptotic quantification.


We compared our method and the conventional EB/AO method for quantifying apoptosis of suspension cells (Jurkat) and adherent cells (A375) under normal growth and apoptosis-inducing conditions. We found that our new EB/AO method achieved quantification results comparable to those produced using the conventional EB/AO method for both suspension and adherent cells.


By eliminating the detaching and washing steps, our method drastically reduces the time needed to perform the test, minimizes damage to adherent cells, and decreases the possibility of losing floating cells. Overall, our method is an improvement over the currently available techniques especially for adherent cells.