In vivo interpretation of in vitro effect studies with a detailed analysis of the method of in vitro transcription in isolated cell nuclei

Acta Biotheoretica 44 (1) (1996)
Abstract
In vitro experimental approaches are of central importance to contemporary molecular and cellular biology and toxicology. However, the scientific value or impact of in vitro results depends on their relevance in vivo. In vitro effect studies address inobservable in vivo phenomena through experiments on analogous in vitro phenomena. We present a theoretical basis developed to evaluate the in vivo relevance of in vitro effect studies. As a case study, the procedure for measuring specific gene transcription in isolated cell nuclei (nuclear run-off method) is analyzed It is concluded that current evidence fails to justify in vivo interpretations of nuclear run-off experiments within the framework of theoretical models of transcription, implying that quantitative in vivo interpretations are unwarranted. Qualitative interpretations of nuclear run-off experiments may be justified by inferring the best explanation, especially when significant in vitro effects follow in vivo perturbations.Elements of a general theory are proposed. It is concluded that quantitative in vivo interpretations are warranted primarily in biochemical quantitation of biomolecules, while studies on biological function should be interpreted qualitatively in terms of causal explanations. Inferences to the best explanations are strengthened through additional evidence and the creation of experimental differences (effects).
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