Trapping and breaking of in vivo nicked DNA during pulsed field gel electrophoresis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) offers a high-resolution approach to quantify chromosomal fragmentation in bacteria, measured as percentage of chromosomal DNA entering the gel. The degree of separation in pulsed field gel (PFG) depends on the size of DNA as well as various conditions of electrophoresis such as electric field strength, time of electrophoresis, switch time, and buffer composition. Here we describe a new parameter, the structural integrity of the sample DNA itself, that influences its migration through PFGs. We show that subchromosomal fragments containing both spontaneous and DNA damage-induced nicks are prone to breakage during PFGE. Such breakage at single-strand interruptions results in artifactual decrease in molecular weight of linear DNA making accurate determination of the number of double-strand breaks difficult. Although breakage of nicked subchromosomal fragments is field strength independent, some high-molecular-weight subchromosomal fragments are also trapped within wells under the standard PFGE conditions. This trapping can be minimized by lowering the field strength and increasing the time of electrophoresis. We discuss how breakage of nicked DNA may be mechanistically linked to trapping. Our results suggest how to optimize conditions for PFGE when quantifying chromosomal fragmentation induced by DNA damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-281
Number of pages13
JournalAnalytical Biochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


  • DNA trapping
  • Double-strand breaks
  • Field strength
  • Single-strand breaks
  • Time of electrophoresis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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