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BMC Cell Biol. 2004 Mar 22;5:10.

A new spreadsheet method for the analysis of bivariate flow cytometric data.

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Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre, Institute of Cancer Research, 237 Fulham Road, London SW3 6JB, UK.



A useful application of flow cytometry is the investigation of cell receptor-ligand interactions. However such analyses are often compromised due to problems interpreting changes in ligand binding where the receptor expression is not constant. Commonly, problems are encountered due to cell treatments resulting in altered receptor expression levels, or when cell lines expressing a transfected receptor with variable expression are being compared. To overcome this limitation we have developed a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that aims to automatically and effectively simplify flow cytometric data and perform statistical tests in order to provide a clearer graphical representation of results.


To demonstrate the use and advantages of this new spreadsheet method we have investigated the binding of the transmembrane adhesion receptor CD44 to its ligand hyaluronan. In the first example, phorbol ester treatment of cells results in both increased CD44 expression and increased hyaluronan binding. By applying the spreadsheet method we effectively demonstrate that this increased ligand binding results from receptor activation. In the second example we have compared AKR1 cells transfected either with wild type CD44 (WT CD44) or a mutant with a truncated cytoplasmic domain (CD44-T). These two populations do not have equivalent receptor expression levels but by using the spreadsheet method hyaluronan binding could be compared without the need to generate single cell clones or FACS sorting the cells for matching CD44 expression. By this method it was demonstrated that hyaluronan binding requires a threshold expression of CD44 and that this threshold is higher for CD44-T. However, at high CD44-T expression, binding was equivalent to WT CD44 indicating that the cytoplasmic domain has a role in presenting the receptor at the cell surface in a form required for efficient hyaluronan binding rather than modulating receptor activity.


Using the attached spreadsheets and instructions, a simple post-acquisition method for analysing bivariate flow cytometry data is provided. This method constitutes a straightforward improvement over the standard graphical output of flow cytometric data and has the significant advantage that ligand binding can be compared between cell populations irrespective of receptor expression levels.

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