Phosphoflow Protocol for Signaling Studies in Human and Murine B Cell Subpopulations

J Immunol. 2020 May 15;204(10):2852-2863. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1901117. Epub 2020 Apr 6.


BCR signaling, involving phosphorylation of various downstream molecules, including kinases, lipases, and linkers, is crucial for B cell selection, survival, proliferation, and differentiation. Phosphoflow cytometry (phosphoflow) is a single-cell-based technique to measure phosphorylated intracellular proteins, providing a more quantitative read-out than Western blotting. Recent advances in phosphoflow basically allow simultaneous analysis of protein phosphorylation in B cell (sub)populations, without prior cell sorting. However, fixation and permeabilization procedures required for phosphoflow often affect cell surface epitopes or mAb conjugates, precluding the evaluation of the phosphorylation status of signaling proteins across different B cell subpopulations present in a single sample. In this study, we report a versatile phosphoflow protocol allowing extensive staining of B cell subpopulations in human peripheral blood or various anatomical compartments in the mouse, starting from freshly isolated or frozen cell suspensions. Both human and mouse B cell subpopulations showed different basal and BCR stimulation-induced phosphorylation levels of downstream signaling proteins. For example, peritoneal B-1 cells and splenic marginal zone B cells exhibited significantly increased basal (ex vivo) signaling and increased responsiveness to in vitro BCR stimulation compared with peritoneal B-2 cells and splenic follicular B cells, respectively. In addition, whereas stimulation with anti-IgM or anti-Igκ L chain Abs resulted in strong pCD79a and pPLCγ2 signals, IgD stimulation only induced CD79a but not pPLCγ2 phosphorylation. In summary, the protocol is user friendly and quantifies BCR-mediated phosphorylation with high sensitivity at the single-cell level, in combination with extensive staining to identify individual B cell development and differentiation stages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocyte Subsets / physiology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • CD79 Antigens / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin D / metabolism
  • Immunoglobulin M / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phospholipase C gamma / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Receptors, Antigen, B-Cell / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Single-Cell Analysis


  • CD79 Antigens
  • Immunoglobulin D
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Receptors, Antigen, B-Cell
  • PLCG2 protein, human
  • Phospholipase C gamma