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Immunol Lett. 2013 Apr;152(1):32-41. doi: 10.1016/j.imlet.2013.03.004. Epub 2013 Apr 1.

Sources of heterogeneity in human monocyte subsets.

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  • 1Institute for Immunology & Infection Research, Centre for Immunity, Infection & Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


Human monocytes are commonly defined and discriminated by the extent of their cell surface expression of CD14 and CD16, with associated differences in function and phenotype related to the intensity of expression of these markers. With increasing interest into the function and behaviour of monocytes, it is important to have a clear understanding of how differing strategies of analysis can affect results and how different protocols and population backgrounds can affect this highly morphogenic cell type. Using PBMCs from populations with differing ethnicities and histories of parasite exposure we have characterized monocyte phenotype based on intensity of CD14 and CD16 expression. Using the surface markers HLA-DR, CCR2 and CX3CR1, we compared monocyte phenotype between populations and further assessed changes in monocytes with freezing and thawing of PBMCs. Our results reveal that there is a progression of surface marker expression based on intensity of CD14 or CD16 expression, stressing the importance of careful gating of monocyte subtypes. Freezing and thawing of the PBMCs has no effect generally on the monocytes, although it does lead to a decrease in CD16 and CX3CR1 expression. We show that there are differences in the monocyte populations based on ethnicity and history of exposure to the common parasites Plasmodium falciparum and Schistosoma haematobium. This study highlights that blood monocytes consist of a continuous population of cells, within which the dominant phenotype may vary dependent on the background of the study population. Comparing results from monocyte studies therefore needs to be done with great care, as ethnic background of donor population, gating strategy and processing of PBMCs may all have an effect on outcome of monocyte phenotype.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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