This paper describes a critical comparative evaluation of 5 miniaturised colorimetric assays applicable to cytotoxicity testing of anti-tumour drugs (and other toxins) in vitro. Each assay shows a different linear range for optical density versus cell number, a different sensitivity to change in cell number and a different minimum detectable cell number; the values of these parameters vary with experimental conditions and with cell line used. All the methods gave good correlation with viable cell number (determined by colony forming efficiency) in toxicity assays after 3 or 4 days of treatment, but they underestimated cell death after 2 days. Toxicity levels for individual chemicals (in a standard 6-day assay) are similar for the different assays, irrespective of the mechanism of action of the chemical being tested. Two of the more recently developed assays (APNaOH and SRB) were found to be very sensitive under the conditions examined.
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