Simultaneous flow cytometric measurement of viability and lymphocyte subset proliferation

J Immunol Methods. 2001 Jan 1;247(1-2):175-86. doi: 10.1016/s0022-1759(00)00323-9.


Combined analysis of DNA content and immunofluorescence on single cells by flow cytometry provides information on the proliferative response of cellular sub-populations in mixed cell preparations. However, the presence of considerable numbers of dead (nonviable) cells impairs accurate flow cytometric data analysis, mainly, because dead cells can bind antibodies non-specifically and show alterations in their DNA staining profiles. We developed a rapid method for identification of dead cells by fluorescence in cell preparations that are stained simultaneously for two-color immunofluorescence and DNA content. Cells are stained with 7-aminoactinomycin D (7-AAD) for dead cell discrimination and with fluorescein-isothiocyanate (FITC) and phycoerythrin (PE)-labeled monoclonal antibodies (mAb) for cell surface immunofluorescence. Diffusion of 7-AAD from stained, dead cells into unstained, live cells after cell permeabilization is blocked by the addition of its non-fluorescent analogue actinomycin D (AD). DNA is stained with red-excitable TO-PRO-3 iodide (TP3) which has an emission spectrum that can be effectively separated from the emissions of FITC, PE, and 7-AAD. TP3 staining is performed in the presence of ribonuclease A (RNAse) in phosphate-citrate buffer containing saponin (PCBS) at low pH. FITC fluorescence is sensitive to acid pH; therefore, PCBS is replaced after DNA staining with 1x PBS at pH 7.2 containing saponin to permit accurate detection of FITC immunofluorescence on the flow cytometer. We apply this method to the analysis of differential proliferation of lymphocyte subsets in cultures of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) with low viability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • CD28 Antigens / immunology
  • CD3 Complex / immunology
  • Carbocyanines
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Separation / methods*
  • Cell Survival
  • DNA
  • Dactinomycin / analogs & derivatives
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • Staining and Labeling / methods
  • Titrimetry
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • CD28 Antigens
  • CD3 Complex
  • Carbocyanines
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • TO-PRO-3
  • Dactinomycin
  • 7-aminoactinomycin D
  • DNA
  • Fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate