Evaluating cellular polyfunctionality with a novel polyfunctionality index

PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e42403. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042403. Epub 2012 Jul 30.


Functional evaluation of naturally occurring or vaccination-induced T cell responses in mice, men and monkeys has in recent years advanced from single-parameter (e.g. IFN-γ-secretion) to much more complex multidimensional measurements. Co-secretion of multiple functional molecules (such as cytokines and chemokines) at the single-cell level is now measurable due primarily to major advances in multiparametric flow cytometry. The very extensive and complex datasets generated by this technology raise the demand for proper analytical tools that enable the analysis of combinatorial functional properties of T cells, hence polyfunctionality. Presently, multidimensional functional measures are analysed either by evaluating all combinations of parameters individually or by summing frequencies of combinations that include the same number of simultaneous functions. Often these evaluations are visualized as pie charts. Whereas pie charts effectively represent and compare average polyfunctionality profiles of particular T cell subsets or patient groups, they do not document the degree or variation of polyfunctionality within a group nor does it allow more sophisticated statistical analysis. Here we propose a novel polyfunctionality index that numerically evaluates the degree and variation of polyfuntionality, and enable comparative and correlative parametric and non-parametric statistical tests. Moreover, it allows the usage of more advanced statistical approaches, such as cluster analysis. We believe that the polyfunctionality index will render polyfunctionality an appropriate end-point measure in future studies of T cell responsiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Species Specificity
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology*

Grant support

The study was supported by Inserm, the Université Pierre et Marie Curie “EMERGENCE” program and by the European FP6 “ATTACK” program (Contract: LSHC-CT-2005-018914). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.