Standardization and optimization of multiparameter intracellular cytokine staining

Cytometry A. 2008 Nov;73(11):984-91. doi: 10.1002/cyto.a.20602.


Intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) is a common method for rapid quantitation of cytokine-producing antigen-specific T cells. T cell production of IFNgamma in particular, and more recently IL-2 as well, is often taken as a measure of vaccine immunogenicity in experimental vaccine trials. As more fluorochromes become available for use in ICS and other applications detecting intracellular markers, the selection of optimal fluorochrome combinations becomes correspondingly more complicated. Additionally, as more sophisticated flow cytometers become available, more attention is being paid to potential result variability from one instrument to another. This review summarizes an oral presentation given at MASIR 2008, January 30-Feb 1, 2008, in La Plagne, France. We focus on issues associated with multiparameter (>four color) flow cytometry, including matching antibody specificities with available fluorochromes and techniques to optimize fluorochrome combinations. We examine issues specific to intracellular staining as well as broader topics such as instrument setup, experimental controls, sample management, and analysis of multiparameter data sets. Particular emphasis is placed on the use of lyophilized cells, antibodies, beads, peptides, etc. (collectively known as "lyoplates"), which can decrease experiment-to-experiment variability as well as processing time. Most clinical trials compile results from multiple testing sites, using data that was acquired on-site in each location. We present data from two different ongoing multi-laboratory standardization studies, one involving 15 laboratories and one involving nine. We identify issues of variability and, where possible, offer solutions.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry / instrumentation
  • Flow Cytometry / standards*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Freeze Drying
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Staining and Labeling / standards*


  • Antibodies
  • Cytokines
  • Fluorescent Dyes