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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39533. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039533. Epub 2012 Jun 20.

Linear fidelity in quantification of anti-viral CD8+ T cells.

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Division of Biomedical Science and Biochemistry, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.


Enumeration of anti-viral CD8(+) T cells to make comparisons between mice, viruses and vaccines is a frequently used approach, but controversy persists as to the most appropriate methods. Use of peptide-MHC tetramers (or variants) and intracellular staining for cytokines, in particular IFNγ, after a short ex vivo stimulation are now common, as are a variety of cytotoxicity assays, but few direct comparisons have been made. It has been argued that use of tetramers leads to the counting of non-functional T cells and that measurement of single cytokines will fail to identify cells with alternative functions. Further, the linear range of these methods has not been tested and this is required to give confidence that relative quantifications can be compared across samples. Here we show for two acute virus infections and CD8(+) T cells activated in vitro that DimerX (a tetramer variant) and intracellular staining for IFNγ, alone or in combination with CD107 to detect degranulation, gave comparable results at the peak of the response. Importantly, these methods were highly linear over nearly two orders of magnitude. In contrast, in vitro and in vivo assays for cytotoxicity were not linear, suffering from high background killing, plateaus in maximal killing and substantial underestimation of differences in magnitude of responses.

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