The alkaline and neutral (or nondenaturing) filter elution assays are popular methods for the measurement of DNA strand breakage and its repair in eukaryotic cells. In both alkaline and neutral elution, it is recommended practice to wash the filter support after removal of the filter and to analyze the DNA recovered by this procedure together with that remaining on the filter as uneluted DNA, although it is not obvious why the DNA in the filter support wash should be so interpreted. We have observed that the sum of the DNA on the filter and that recovered in the filter support wash is approximately constant when the pH of the alkaline filter elution assay for total strand breaks is increased from 12.1 to 12.6, whereas the fraction on the filter itself is markedly smaller at the higher pH. This behavior characterized DNA elution from undamaged cells, as well as from cells treated with various DNA-damaging agents. These findings are consistent with the "tug-of-war" mechanism that has been proposed for alkaline elution, but are inconsistent with the simplest mechanism of the "sieve" class. In the neutral filter elution assay for double-strand breaks, by contrast, the distribution of DNA between the filter and the filter support wash is pH-independent. This suggests that single- and double-stranded DNA segments traverse a filter by different physical mechanisms. Our observations underscore the importance of carrying out the filter support wash and the analysis of the DNA it contains as uneluted DNA in alkaline elution, while indicating that a different analysis of this DNA might be appropriate for neutral elution.

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