Measurement in vivo of proliferation rates of slow turnover cells by 2H2O labeling of the deoxyribose moiety of DNA

R. A. Neese, L. M. Misell, S. Turner, A. Chu, J. Kim, D. Cesar, R. Hoh, F. Antelo, A. Strawford, J. M. McCune, M. Christiansen, M. K. Hellerstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

218 Scopus citations


We describe here a method for measuring DNA replication and, thus, cell proliferation in slow turnover cells that is suitable for use in humans. The technique is based on the incorporation of 2H2O into the deoxyribose (dR) moiety of purine deoxyribonucleotides in dividing cells. For initial validation, rodents were administered 4% 2H2O in drinking water. The proliferation rate of mammary epithelial cells in mice was 2.9% per day and increased 5-fold during pregnancy. Administration of estradiol pellets (0-200 μg) to ovariectomized rats increased mammary epithelial cell proliferation, according to a dose-response relationship up to the 100 μg dose. Similarly, proliferation of colon epithelial cells was stimulated in a dose-response manner by dietary cholic acid in rats. Bromodeoxyuridine labeling correlated with the 2H2O results. Proliferation of slow turnover cells was then measured. Vascular smooth muscle cells isolated from mouse aorta divided with a half-life in the range of 270-400 days and die-away values after 2H2O wash-out confirmed these slow turnover rates. The proliferation rate of an adipocyte-enriched fraction from mouse adipose tissue depots was 1-1.5% new cells per day, whereas obese ad libitum-fed ob/ob mice exhibited markedly higher fractional and absolute proliferation rates. In humans, stable long-term 2H2O enrichments in body water were achieved by daily 2H2O intake, without toxicities. Labeled dR from fully turned-over blood cells (monocytes or granulocytes) exhibited a consistent amplification factor relative to body 2H2O enrichment (≈3.5-fold). The fraction of newly divided naive-phenotype T cells after 9 weeks of labeling with 2H2O was 0.056 (CD4+) and 0.043 (CD8+) (replacement rate <0.1% per day). In summary, 2H2O labeling of dR in DNA allows safe, convenient, reproducible, and inexpensive measurement of cell proliferation in humans and experimental animals and is well suited for slow turn-over cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15345-15350
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
StatePublished - Nov 26 2002


  • Adipogenesis
  • Cell proliferation
  • Deuterated water
  • DNA synthesis
  • Vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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