A novel non-radioactive cellular cytotoxicity test based on the differential assessment of living and killed target and effector cells

J Immunol Methods. 1995 Mar 13;180(1):1-13. doi: 10.1016/0022-1759(94)00293-6.


Monocyte/macrophage-mediated cytotoxicity and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) are slow processes, requiring cocultivation of effector and target cells for up to several days. Because of the high spontaneous release and possible reutilization of isotopic labels, the conventional radioactive release assays are unsuited for measuring long term cytotoxicity. We developed a non-radioactive flow cytometric assay for the quantitative analysis of cell-mediated cytotoxicity. Because dead cells can dissolve and disappear during the incubation period (lysis, phagocytosis), we determined the absolute numbers of living cells in the well. Prior to incubation the effector cells are stained with the red lipophilic fluorescent dye PKH26 and the target cells with the green fluorescent dye PKH2. At the end of the incubation (1-6 days) a defined number of bright fluorescent cell standards and propidium iodide for staining of dead cells was added to each well. Using flow cytometric analysis, we determined the ratio of targets to standards and calculated the absolute target cell number by multiplication with the known number of standards added. The main advantages of the assay are the possibility of extended incubation periods, the avoidance of radioactivity and its potential applicability to autologous culture systems, where effector and tumor cells are derived from the same patient. The assay opens new avenues for preclinical testing of tumor therapeutics such as monoclonal antibodies and/or cytokines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibody-Dependent Cell Cytotoxicity / immunology*
  • Cell Survival
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytotoxicity Tests, Immunologic / methods*
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic / immunology*
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Organic Chemicals*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Organic Chemicals
  • PKH 26
  • PKH-2