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J Immunol Methods. 2010 Aug 31;360(1-2):56-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jim.2010.06.005. Epub 2010 Jun 15.

A flow cytometry-based assay to assess minute frequencies of CD8+ T cells by their cytolytic function.

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Gynecology, Gynecologic Tumor Immunology, Campus Benjamin Franklin and Mitte, Charité-Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany.


Limited sample size and low sensitivity of currently used functional assays challenge direct analysis of cytotoxic CD8+ T lymphocyte activity to quantify antigen-specific immunity after infection or vaccination. Our flow cytometry-based assay reproducibly detects at least three epitope-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes by their cytolytic function. As exemplified for viral epitopes restricted to the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A2, the HLA-A2+ human somatic cell hybrid T2 provided an about 10-fold more sensitive readout as compared to autologous B-lymphoblastoid cells or the human erythroleukemia cell line K562 transfected to express HLA-A2 when used as target cells. We named our assay VITAL-FR assay, referring to Hermans et al. (2004) and indicating the modification of using Far Red (FR) dye instead of CMTMR. Under optimal conditions the VITAL-FR assay proved 30 times more sensitive than the 51chromium-release assay to assess epitope-specific target cell lysis. The high overall sensitivity of the VITAL-FR assay basically depended on the negligible spectral overlap of the emission of a stable Far Red fluorescent reporter with the green tracer for target cell labelling. It also profited from long co-incubation of effector and target cells of up to 72, from prior in-vitro culture increasing the frequency of epitope-specific CD8+ T cells and from generic, easily accessible standardized target cells that were used with only 10(3) specific and 10(3) control target cells per individual experimental reaction. Our functional approach with the VITAL-FR assay therefore ideally suits for monitoring CD8+ T cell-mediated cytotoxicity in e.g. vaccination studies with known MHC-restricted immunogenic peptides in scientific and diagnostic applications.

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