Analysis of protein phosphorylation and cellular signaling events by flow cytometry: techniques and clinical applications

Clin Immunol. 2004 Mar;110(3):206-21. doi: 10.1016/j.clim.2003.11.009.


Analysis of protein phosphorylation with flow cytometric techniques has emerged as a powerful tool in the field of immunological signaling, allowing cellular subsets in complex populations to be analyzed accurately and rapidly. In this review, we examine the development of phospho-epitope, or phospho-specific, flow cytometry and the premises upon which the technique is based. Phospho-specific flow cytometry is compared to traditional biochemical methods, and its advantages, such as single cell analysis, multiparameter data acquisition, rapid protocols, and the ability to analyze rare cell subsets, are detailed. We also discuss the many technical considerations that must be addressed when developing new antibodies or analyzing new epitopes including antigen accessibility, stability of the phospho-epitope, fluorophore selection, surface phenotype integrity, and antibody suitability for staining epitopes inside fixed and permeabilized cells. The methods that have been used to date are described in light of these technical considerations. The importance of developing bioinformatic platforms in parallel with these techniques is emphasized due to the large, multiparameter datasets that are rapidly accumulated and which require more efficient data viewing and complex clustering methods than currently available for flow cytometric data. Finally, we discuss the potential clinical applications of phospho-specific flow cytometry in analyzing immune cell development and antigen-specific immune responses, as well as pharmacodynamic profiling of disease states or drug efficacy and specificity against particular signaling proteins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens / analysis
  • Antigens / immunology
  • Flow Cytometry* / methods
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Fluid / chemistry
  • Intracellular Fluid / immunology
  • Phosphorylation*
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*


  • Antigens
  • Proteins