Use of overlapping peptide mixtures as antigens for cytokine flow cytometry

J Immunol Methods. 2001 Sep 1;255(1-2):27-40. doi: 10.1016/s0022-1759(01)00416-1.


Intracellular cytokine staining and flow cytometry can be used to measure T-cell responses to defined antigens. Although CD8+ T-cell responses to soluble proteins are inefficiently detected by this approach, peptides can be used as antigens. Using overlapping peptides spanning an entire protein sequence, CD8+ T-cell responses can be detected to multiple epitopes, regardless of HLA type. In this study, overlapping peptide mixes of various lengths were compared and 15 amino acid peptides with 11 amino acid overlaps were found to stimulate both CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses. Such peptide mixes stimulated CD4+ T-cell responses equivalent to those observed with whole recombinant protein, while simultaneously stimulating CD8+ T-cell responses much higher than those observed with whole protein. Although 8-12 amino acid peptides produced the highest level of CD8+ T-cell responses, 15 amino acid peptides were still very effective. Peptides that were 20 amino acids in length, however, did not stimulate strong CD8+ T-cell responses at the same peptide dose. The cytokine responses to individual epitopes added up approximately to the response to the entire mix, demonstrating that large mixes can detect responses in a quantitative fashion. Unlike whole protein antigens, peptide mixes were effective at stimulating responses in both cryopreserved PBMC and blood stored for 24 h at room temperature. Thus, overlapping 15 amino acid peptide mixes may facilitate the analysis of antigen-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses by cytokine flow cytometry, using clinical specimens that include shipped blood or cryopreserved PBMC.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Cytokines / analysis*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / blood
  • Epitopes
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Gene Products, gag / immunology*
  • HIV Infections / blood
  • Humans
  • Peptide Fragments / immunology*
  • Phosphoproteins / immunology*
  • Protein Precursors / immunology*
  • Specimen Handling
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / immunology*


  • Cytokines
  • Epitopes
  • Gene Products, gag
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Protein Precursors
  • Viral Matrix Proteins
  • cytomegalovirus matrix protein 65kDa
  • p55 gag precursor protein, Human immunodeficiency virus 1