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J Immunol. 2005 Nov 15;175(10):6334-43.

Ultrasensitive detection and phenotyping of CD4+ T cells with optimized HLA class II tetramer staining.

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The Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.


HLA class I tetramers have revolutionized the study of Ag-specific CD8+ T cell responses. Technical problems and the rarity of Ag-specific CD4+ Th cells have not allowed the potential of HLA class II tetramers to be fully realized. Here, we optimize HLA class II tetramer staining methods through the use of a comprehensive panel of HIV-, influenza-, CMV-, and tetanus toxoid-specific tetramers. We find rapid and efficient staining of DR1- and DR4-restricted CD4+ cell lines and clones and show that TCR internalization is not a requirement for immunological staining. We combine tetramer staining with magnetic bead enrichment to detect rare Ag-specific CD4+ T cells with frequencies as low as 1 in 250,000 (0.0004% of CD4+ cells) in human PBLs analyzed directly ex vivo. This ultrasensitive detection allowed phenotypic analysis of rare CD4+ T lymphocytes that had experienced diverse exposure to Ag during the course of viral infections. These cells would not be detectable with normal flow-cytometric techniques.

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