A semi-automated micronucleus-centromere assay to assess low-dose radiation exposure in human lymphocytes

Ans Baeyens, Rosemary Swanson, Olivia Herd, Elizabeth Ainsbury, Thulani Mabhengu, Pascale Willem, Hubert Thierens, Jacobus P. Slabbert, Anne Vral

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The in vitro micronucleus (MN) assay is a reliable method to assess radiation-induced chromosomal damage in human peripheral blood lymphocytes. It is used to evaluate in vivo radiation over-exposure and to assess in vitro chromosomal radiosensitivity. A limitation of the MN assay is the relatively high and variable spontaneous MN frequency that restricts low-dose estimation to doses of about 0.3 gray (Gy). As radiation-induced MN mainly contain acentric fragments and spontaneous MN originate from lagging chromosomes, both MN types can be distinguished from each other by using fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) with a pan-centromeric probe. The aim of this study was to investigate if the sensitivity, reliability and processing time of the MN assay can be enhanced by combining the automated MN assay with pan-centromere scoring. Materials and methods: Blood samples from 10 healthy donors were irradiated in vitro with low doses of gamma-rays. Dose response curves were determined for fully-automated and semi-automated MN scoring and semi-automated scoring of centromere negative MN (MNCM-). Results: A good correlation was obtained between fully-automated and semi-automated MN scoring (r2 = 0.9973) and between fully automated MN scoring and semi-automated scoring of MNCM- (r2 = 0.998). With the Wilcoxon test, a significant p value was obtained between 0 and 0.2 Gy for the fully-automated MN analysis, between 0 and 0.1 Gy for semi-automated MN analysis and between 0 and 0.05 Gy for semi-automated scoring of MNCM-. Conclusion: The semi-automated micronucleus-centromere assay combines high-speed MN analysis with a more accurate assessment in the low-dose range which makes it of special interest for large-scale radiation applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)923-931
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011


  • Biological dosimetry
  • Dose response curves
  • Fluorescent in situ hybridisation
  • Low-dose radiation exposure
  • Semi-automated micronucleus-centromere assay


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