SUMMARY: Oligonucleotides were end-labelled with digoxigenin (DIG), chemically at the 5'-end or enzymically at the 3'-end. Following specific hybridization of these probes to intracellular rRNA molecules, the hybrids were detected with anti-DIG F fragments labelled with fluorescent dyes. The antibody fragments penetrated through the bacterial cell periphery and specifically bound to their antigens. Probe-conferred and non-specific fluorescence per cell were quantified by flow cytometry and compared to values obtained with end-labelled fluorescent probes. The DIG reporter molecules could also be detected in whole fixed cells by antibodies labelled with either alkaline phosphatase or horseradish peroxidase. The penetration of the large antibody-enzyme complexes into the cells required lysozyme/EDTA treatment prior to the hybridization and has so far only been achieved for Gramnegative bacteria. This technique has the potential for significant signal amplification as compared to the fluorescently end-labelled oligonucleotides hitherto used for single cell identification in microbial ecology. Moreover, it can be used instead of fluorescent assays in natural samples showing autofluorescence.


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