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Clin Vaccine Immunol. 2007 May;14(5):527-37. Epub 2007 Mar 21.

Establishing acceptance criteria for cell-mediated-immunity assays using frozen peripheral blood mononuclear cells stored under optimal and suboptimal conditions.

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Vaccine and Biologics Research, Merck Research Laboratories, WP26B-1144, Merck and Co., Inc., 770 Sumneytown Pike, West Point, PA 19486, USA.


The enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assay is a powerful tool for measuring antigen-specific cellular immune responses. The ability to use frozen peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) facilitates testing samples in multicenter clinical trials; however, unreliable ELISPOT responses may result if samples are not handled properly. Exposure of frozen PBMC to suboptimal storage temperature (-20 degrees C) or repeated cycling between more optimal storage temperatures (less than -130 degrees C and -70 degrees C) reduced the quality of frozen PBMC, as assessed by cell viability and functional ELISPOT response measures. Cell viability as assessed by trypan blue dye exclusion was reduced, and the percentage of apoptotic cells, as determined by the Guava Nexin assay, was significantly increased after these events. The functional gamma interferon ELISPOT responses to phytohemagglutinin (PHA) mitogen, a CD4 T-cell-specific antigen (varicella-zoster virus), and a CD8 T-cell-specific antigen (pool containing known cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and influenza virus peptides) were all significantly reduced after suboptimal storage events. However, for a given suboptimal storage event, the magnitude of the reduction varied between individuals and even among aliquots within an individual bleed, indicating the need for sample-specific acceptance criteria (AC). The percent viable or percent apoptotic cells after thaw, as well as the functional ELISPOT response to PHA, were all effective when applied with limits as AC for separating samples damaged during storage from valid control samples. Although all three AC measures could be effectively applied, the apoptosis AC limit applied was best for separating samples that could respond to antigenic stimulation from samples that could not effectively respond.

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