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Analytical Cellular Pathology
Volume 23, Issue 1, Pages 1-9

Ultrastructural Complexity of Nuclear Components During Early Apoptotic Phases in Breast Cancer Cells

Christian Castelli1 and Gabriele A. Losa1,2

1Laboratorio di Patologia Cellulare, Istituto Cantonale di Patologia, Locarno, Switzerland
2Istituto di Studi Scientifici Interdisciplinari, Locarno, Switzerland

Received 31 January 2001; Accepted 19 April 2001

Copyright © 2001 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Fractal morphometry was used to investigate the ultrastructural features of the plasma membrane, perinuclear membrane and nuclear chromatin in SK‐BR‐3 human breast cancer cells undergoing apoptosis. Cells were incubated with 1 μM calcimycin (A23187) for 24 h. Cells in the early stage of apoptosis had fractal dimension (FD) values indicating that their plasma membranes were less rough (lower FD) than those of control cells, while their perinuclear membranes were unaffected. Changes of the chromatin texture within the entire nucleus and in selected nuclear domains were more pronounced in treated cells. This confirms that the morphological reorganization imputable to a loss of structural complexity (reduced FD) occurs in the early stage of apoptosis, is accompanied by the inhibition of distinct enzymatic events and precedes the onset of conventional cellular markers, which can only be detected during the active phases of the apoptotic process.