High-throughput detection of miRNAs and gene-specific mRNA at the single-cell level by flow cytometry

Nat Commun. 2014 Dec 4;5:5641. doi: 10.1038/ncomms6641.


Fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) is a method that uses fluorescent probes to detect specific nucleic acid sequences at the single-cell level. Here we describe optimized protocols that exploit a highly sensitive FISH method based on branched DNA technology to detect mRNA and miRNA in human leukocytes. This technique can be multiplexed and combined with fluorescent antibody protein staining to address a variety of questions in heterogeneous cell populations. We demonstrate antigen-specific upregulation of IFNγ and IL-2 mRNAs in HIV- and CMV-specific T cells. We show simultaneous detection of cytokine mRNA and corresponding protein in single cells. We apply this method to detect mRNAs for which flow antibodies against the corresponding proteins are poor or are not available. We use this technique to show modulation of a microRNA critical for T-cell function, miR-155. We adapt this assay for simultaneous detection of mRNA and proteins by ImageStream technology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • HIV / immunology
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Interferon-gamma / genetics
  • Interleukin-2 / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / analysis*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis*
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation


  • IL2 protein, human
  • Interleukin-2
  • MIRN155 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Interferon-gamma