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BG-flow, a new flow cytometry tool for G-quadruplex quantification in fixed cells.

BMC biology

Authors: Alessio De Magis, Melanie Kastl, Peter Brossart, Annkristin Heine, Katrin Paeschke

BACKGROUND: Nucleic acids can fold into non-canonical secondary structures named G-quadruplexes (G4s), which consist of guanine-rich sequences stacked into guanine tetrads stabilized by Hoogsteen hydrogen bonding, π-π interactions, and monovalent cations. G4 structure formation and properties are well established in vitro, but potential in vivo functions remain controversial. G4s are evolutionarily enriched at distinct, functional genomic loci, and both genetic and molecular findings indicate that G4s are involved in multiple aspects of cellular homeostasis. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the function of G4 structures and the trigger signals for their formation, robust biochemical methods are needed to detect and quantify G4 structures in living cells. Currently available methods mostly rely on fluorescence microscopy or deep sequencing of immunoprecipitated DNA or RNA using G4-specific antibodies. These methods provide a clear picture of the cellular or genomic localization of G4 structures but are very time-consuming. Here, we assembled a novel protocol that uses the G4-specific antibody BG4 to quantify G4 structures by flow cytometry (BG-flow).

RESULTS: We describe and validate a flow cytometry-based protocol for quantifying G4 levels by using the G4-specific antibody BG4 to label standard cultured cells (Hela and THP-1) as well as primary cells obtained from human blood (peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs)). We additionally determined changes in G4 levels during the cell cycle in immortalized MCF-7 cells, and validated changes previously observed in G4 levels by treating mouse macrophages with the G4-stabilizing agent pyridostatin (PDS).

CONCLUSION: We provide mechanistic proof that BG-flow is working in different kinds of cells ranging from mouse to humans. We propose that BG-flow can be combined with additional antibodies for cell surface markers to determine G4 structures in subpopulations of cells, which will be beneficial to address the relevance and consequences of G4 structures in mixed cell populations. This will support ongoing research that discusses G4 structures as a novel diagnostic tool.

PMID: 33706790

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