The possibility of using the Feulgen nucleal reaction for a quantitative cytochemical estimation of desoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was investigated. The intensity of the reaction in nuclei was determined by absorption measurements with the microscope. The accuracy of such measurements was tested by comparison with measurements on the same material with a Beckman spectrophotometer. The values obtained with the microscope agreed within a few per cent with those obtained with the Beckman spectrophotometer. Furthermore, the errors introduced by uneven distribution of absorbing material, by variations in the numerical aperture of the system, and by variation in the area used on the phototube were investigated empirically.
The following variables were studied with regard to their effect on the intensity of the Feulgen reaction: type of fixation, time of hydrolysis after acetic acid-alcohol and formalin fixation, time of staining in leucobasic fuchsin, method of preparation of leucobasic fuchsin.
The intensity of the Feulgen reaction in liver and erythrocyte nuclei of various vertebrates, fixed in acetic acid-alcohol, was then compared with the DNA content of these nuclei as determined by chemical analysis on a known number of nuclei. The intensity of the reaction was found to be proportional to the DNA content of the nuclei, if nuclei of similar structure and DNA concentration were compared. In nuclei of different structure and DNA concentration (i.e. liver and erythrocyte nuclei), fixed in acetic acid-alcohol, the intensity of the Feulgen reaction was, however, not proportional to the DNA content. This difficulty was overcome by isolating nuclei in sucrose and by fixing them in formalin. Uniform distribution of DNA and therefore uniform coloring after the Feulgen reaction were thus obtained. In such nuclei with uniform distribution of absorbing material the Feulgen reaction was found to be proportional to the DNA content of nuclei, even if they differed greatly in their DNA concentration.
The Feulgen nucleal reaction is not quantitative in an absolute sense. For absolute determinations nuclei of known DNA content must be treated together with the unknown material to serve as standard.
From these data it therefore appears possible to determine cytochemically relative amounts of DNA in cellular structures by measuring their absorption after treatment with the Feulgen nucleal reaction.