Development and validation of a gamma interferon ELISPOT assay for quantitation of cellular immune responses to varicella-zoster virus

Clin Diagn Lab Immunol. 2001 Sep;8(5):871-9. doi: 10.1128/CDLI.8.5.871-879.2001.


Cell-mediated immunity appears to be critical for the prevention and control of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infection and complications arising from zoster. Current assays of VZV-specific cell-mediated immunity are cumbersome or lack sensitivity. We have developed a gamma interferon ELISPOT assay that provides a direct measure of the number of T cells secreting a cytokine following stimulation with antigen. This assay is extremely sensitive and specific, with the ability to detect gamma interferon spot-forming cells (SFC) in the range of 10 to 1,000 SFC per million peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). This assay has been validated by demonstrating the following: (i) the response detected is mediated almost entirely by CD4+ T cells, (ii) ELISPOT responses from fresh-frozen PBMCs are equivalent to those from freshly isolated cells, (iii) frozen PBMCs can be shipped on dry ice for up to 48 h without loss of activity, (iv) frozen PBMC samples can be stored in liquid nitrogen over long periods (>22 months) without any significant change in response, and (v) the numbers of ELISPOTs counted using a computer-based imaging system are equivalent to those counted by humans but have lower variability. The ability to use frozen cells is facilitated by the use of a recombinant nuclease (Benzonase) that can prevent cell clumping when samples are thawed. Frozen PBMC samples can be cycled through multiple changes in storage between liquid nitrogen and dry ice without any change in response being detected. This facilitates collection of samples at one site and testing performed at a remote location. This VZV ELISPOT assay provides a new versatile tool for monitoring cellular immune responses either during a herpes zoster disease outbreak or following vaccination.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / metabolism
  • Antigens, Viral / immunology
  • Cell Aggregation / drug effects
  • Cryopreservation / methods
  • Cryoprotective Agents / adverse effects
  • Endonucleases / pharmacology
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay / methods*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay / standards
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma* / analysis
  • Interferon-gamma* / biosynthesis
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / cytology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / virology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • Titrimetry


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antigens, Viral
  • Cryoprotective Agents
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Endonucleases