A new, simple and sensitive flow cytometric assay for the determination of the cytotoxic activity of human natural killer cells is described. The assay is based on the use of two fluorochromes. The target cell population is stained with one fluorochrome (octadecylamine-fluorescein isothiocyanate, F-18) prior to incubation with the effector cells. F-18 remains in the membrane of the target cells even when they are killed thereby permitting a clear separation between effector and target cells. Dead cells are determined by staining with a second fluorochrome (propidium iodide) after incubation of effector and target cells. F-18 is not toxic and does not decrease the cytotoxic activity of human natural killer cells. It is also stable (exchange between labeled and non-labeled cells is negligible in a period of at least 4 h at 37°C) and it remains in the membrane of the killed cells. A clear distinction between unlabeled effector and labeled target cells is obtained, even after incubation of target and effector cells for 4 h at 37°C and using a high effector cell-target cell ratio (75:1). A good correlation with the 51Cr release assay was obtained. A potential application of the flow cytometric cytotoxicity assay using whole blood instead of isolated lymphocytes is presented.
- Propidium iodide
- Octadecylamine-fluorescein isothiocyanate
- Flow cytometry
- Natural killer