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Cytometry. 1999 Jan 1;35(1):64-74.

Flow cytometric analysis of live cell proliferation and phenotype in populations with low viability.

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Department of Medicine, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA.



Combined analysis of DNA content and immunofluorescence on single cells by flow cytometry provides information on the proliferative response of subpopulations to stimuli in mixed cell preparations; however, in low-viability cell preparations, dead cells interfere with accurate flow cytometric data analysis because of nonspecific binding of antibodies and altered DNA-staining profiles. Light scatter differences between nonviable and viable cells are unreliable, particularly after the cell permeabilization step that is necessary for DNA staining. We developed a method for identification of nonviable cells by fluorescence in cell preparations that are stained simultaneously for cell surface or intracellular immunofluorescence and DNA content.


Nonviable cells that have lost membrane integrity are identified by uptake of 7-amino-actinomycin D (7-AAD). Transfer of 7-AAD from stained nonviable cells to unstained viable cells after permeabilization is prevented by blocking DNA binding with nonfluorescent actinomycin D (AD). Pyronin Y(G) (PY) is used for DNA staining because the orange spectral emission of PY can be separated from the green fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) emission and the red emission of 7-AAD, respectively.


Application of the method to the analysis of the T-cell leukemia cell line Molt-4f and of cultured human peripheral blood mononuclear cells is presented. In both cell preparations, 7-AAD staining permitted reliable dead cell exclusion. Live, 7-AAD-negative Molt-4f cells showed higher expression levels of cell surface CD4 and of intracellular CD3, showed a higher proportion of cells in the G1 phase of the cell cycle, and showed a lower coefficient of variation of the G1 peak compared with data obtained from all the cells in the preparation. Live, CD8+ lymphocytes from OKT3-stimulated cultures of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells showed a specific proliferative response as measured by DNA content analysis.


The results show that cells stained with FITC-labeled antibodies can be analyzed by single-laser flow cytometry for DNA content combined with dead cell discrimination. Furthermore, they emphasize the need for exclusion of dead cells from the analysis of cell preparations with low viability to obtain reliable data on immunofluorescence and cell-cycle distributions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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