Quantitative in situ hybridization of ribosomal RNA species to polytene chromosomes of Drosophila melanogaster

Paul Szabo, Robert Elder, Dale M. Steffensen, Olke C. Uhlenbeck*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


In situ hybridization of 125I-labelled 5 S and 18 + 28 S ribosomal RNAs to the salivary polytene chromosomes of Drosophila melanogaster was successfully quantitated. Although the precision of the data is low, it is possible to compare the hybridization reaction between an RNA sample and chromosomes in situ with the reaction between the same RNA sample and Drosophila DNA immobilized on nitrocellulose filters. The in situ hybrid dissociates over a narrow temperature range with a midpoint similar to the value expected for the filter hybrid. The kinetics of the in situ hybridization reaction can be fit with a single first-order rate constant that has a value from three to five times smaller than the corresponding filter hybridization reaction. Although the reaction saturates at longer times or higher RNA concentrations, the saturation value does not correspond to an RNA molecule bound to every available DNA sequence. With the acid denaturation procedure most commonly used to preserve cytological quality, only 5 to 10% of the complementary DNA in the chromosomes is available to form hybrids in situ. This hybridization efficiency is a function of how the slides are prepared and the conditions of annealing, but is approximately constant with a given procedure for both 5 S RNA and 18 + 28 S RNA over a number of different cell types with different DNA contents. The results provide further evidence that the formation of RNA-DNA hybrids is the sole basis of in situ hybridization, and show that the properties of the in situ hybrids are remarkably similar to those of filter hybrids. It is also suggested that for reliable chromosomal localization using the in situ hybridization technique, the kinetics of the reaction should be followed to ensure that the correct rate constant is obtained for the major RNA species in the sample and an impurity in the sample is not localized instead.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-563
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 25 1977

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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