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J Immunol Methods. 2001 Jul 1;253(1-2):95-112.

Flow cytometric quantitation of calcium-dependent and -independent mitogen-stimulation of T cell functions in whole blood: inhibition by immunosuppressive drugs in vitro.

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  • 1Transplantation Immunology, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Stanford University Medical School, 94305-5407, Stanford, CA, USA.


We have optimized assays to measure mitogen-stimulated rat lymphocyte activation in whole blood and have used these assays to quantitate the potencies of immunosuppressive drugs with different mechanisms of action. To define the optimal conditions for measuring T cell functions in whole blood, the effects of different concentrations of mitogens that activate T cells through calcium-dependent and -independent pathways were measured over time. Proliferation was measured by tritium-labeled thymidine ([3H]-TdR) incorporation and by flow cytometric analysis of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA)/DNA content. Furthermore, we detected the increases in percent expression of cell-surface activation antigens (CD25, CD134, CD71, CD11a and CD54). Concanavalin A (Con A) stimulated maximum lymphocyte proliferation and expression of T cell surface activations by 72-96 h, which was 48 h later than stimulation by phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) plus anti-CD28 monoclonal antibody (mAb) or PMA plus ionomycin (IONO). Addition of sirolimus, tacrolimus, cyclosporine or the active metabolite of leflunomide, A77 1726, to mitogen-stimulated whole blood produced drug concentration-dependent inhibitions of lymphocyte proliferation and expression of cell surface activation antigen expression. From these data, we determined drug potencies (inhibitory concentration of 50%, IC(50)) and drug concentrations causing maximum inhibition of T cell functions (I(max)). We developed simple and reproducible assays to measure different lymphocyte functions in whole blood cultures. These assays were used to investigate the mechanisms of different immunosuppressive drugs. These methods can be exploited to measure T cell functions in blood collected from subjects treated with immunosuppressants in vivo.

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