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J Immunol Methods. 2003 Oct 1;281(1-2):65-78.

Sensitive and viable identification of antigen-specific CD8+ T cells by a flow cytometric assay for degranulation.

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Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, 40 Convent Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Flow cytometric detection of antigen-specific CD8+ T cells has previously been limited to MHC-class I tetramer staining or intracellular cytokine production, neither of which measure the cytolytic potential of these cells. Here we present a novel technique to enumerate antigen-specific CD8+ T cells using a marker expressed on the cell surface following activation induced degranulation, a necessary precursor of cytolysis. This assay measures the exposure of CD107a and b, present in the membrane of cytotoxic granules, onto the cell surface as a result of degranulation. Acquisition of cell surface CD107a and b is associated with loss of intracellular perforin and is inhibited by colchicine, indicating that exposure of CD107a and b to the cell surface is dependent on degranulation. CD107a and b are expressed on the cell surface of CD8+ T cells following activation with cognate peptide, concordant with production of intracellular IFNgamma. Finally, CD107-expressing CD8+ T cells are shown to mediate cytolytic activity in an antigen-specific manner. Measurement of CD107a and b expression can also be combined with MHC-class I tetramer labeling and intracellular cytokine staining to provide a more complete assessment of the functionality of CD8+T cells expressing cognate T cell receptors (TCR).

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