Development and application of a multiplexable flow cytometry-based assay to quantify cell-mediated cytolysis

Cytometry A. 2010 Jun;77(6):534-45. doi: 10.1002/cyto.a.20887.


Although target cell cytolysis has been widely employed to describe effector function of cells, cytolysis assays as commonly employed do not generate quantitative data. In this report we describe the development and application of a statistically supported flow cytometry-based assay to quantify cell-mediated cytolysis. The assay depends on the use of the fluorescent dye CFSE to distinguish target from effector cells, the DNA intercalating dye 7AAD to distinguish dead from live cell events, and on the establishment of a cytolysis curve that allows for the derivation of statistically robust data. We demonstrate that the cytolysis curve is well described by a four parameter logistic regression model provided that (i) the range of effector to target (E:T) ratios studied allows for full description of the logistic curve, and (ii) an adequate number of data points are collected to estimate the model parameters. We show that the assay is highly reproducible and accurate, and comparable in sensitivity with the standard (51)Cr assay. We report on the potential for this assay to generate quantitative data on the cytolytic activity of both CD8 T and NK cells; describe a relationship between the efficiency of effector cell degranulation and target cell cytolysis throughout a range of E:T ratios, and demonstrate the potential to multiplex with other platforms to obtain broader datasets for the effector phenotype of cells. Appropriate use of this assay will enhance the ability to derive quantitative and integrated correlative datasets from basic, translational, and clinical studies.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Chromium Radioisotopes*
  • Cytotoxicity Tests, Immunologic / methods*
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Fluorescent Dyes*
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology


  • Chromium Radioisotopes
  • Fluorescent Dyes