Quantification of NK cell activity using whole blood: Methodological aspects of a new test

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Natural Killer (NK) cells are essential in the biological fight against cancer and intracellular pathogens, and their level of activity has in many settings been used as a biomarker for a functional immune response. Currently, NK cell activity is measured using either 51Cr-release assays or flow cytometry based assays revealing the cells´ cytotoxic capacity or by stimulating them to produce cytokines. Although very effective, these are cumbersome techniques not suitable for high volume clinical laboratories. Recently, an assay has been introduced to measure NK cell activity in a simple and standardized manner. Following stimulation of NK cells in whole blood with a recombinant protein, it utilizes the concentration of IFNγ released to the plasma as a surrogate marker for NK cell activity. However, whole blood holds several sources of IFNγ which may blur the results and hamper the interpretation of the test. Therefore, the present study aimed at analyzing how specifically the test is measuring the activity of NK cells. Intracellular flow cytometry showed that NK cells, T cells, and Natural Killer T (NKT) cells were producing IFNγ in the assay, however when analyzing the distribution of lymphocytes in the IFNγ-expressing subset, the proportion of NK cells far exceeded the percentage of T-, and NKT cells (p < .0001). Hence, our data indicate that the readout of the test was indicative of the NK cells´ ability to mount a response and thus the results may pave the way for the assay to become applicable in the clinical setting as an estimate of NK cell activity for both diagnostic and prognostic purposes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Immunological Methods
Pages (from-to)21-25
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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