Interpretation of cellular proliferation data: avoid the panglossian

Cytometry A. 2011 Feb;79(2):95-101. doi: 10.1002/cyto.a.21010. Epub 2011 Jan 12.


There are several statistics that may be calculated to characterize a cellular proliferation experiment. By far, the most commonly-reported statistic is the percent of cells in the final culture that have divided; however, this statistic has significant limitations. Other statistics provided by software modeling provide a much richer characterization of the biological response; however, their use also comes with caveats. Here, I discuss the practical application of these statistics, including their limitations and interdependencies, using hypothetical data. The goal of this perspective is to prevent the blind reliance or overly optimistic ("panglossian") interpretation of the statistics generated by software, so that researchers and reviewers have a more-informed basis for drawing conclusions from the data.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cell Division / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluoresceins / chemistry
  • Fluoresceins / pharmacokinetics
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Fluorescent Dyes / pharmacokinetics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Succinimides / chemistry
  • Succinimides / pharmacokinetics


  • 5-(6)-carboxyfluorescein diacetate succinimidyl ester
  • Fluoresceins
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Succinimides