Flow cytometric characterization of Ag-specific T cells typically relies on detection of protein analytes. Shifting the analysis to detection of RNA would provide several significant advantages, which we illustrate by developing a new host immunity–based platform for detection of infections. Cytokine mRNAs synthesized in response to ex vivo stimulation with pathogen-specific Ags are detected in T cells with single–molecule fluorescence in situ hybridization followed by flow cytometry. Background from pre-existing in vivo analytes is lower for RNAs than for proteins, allowing greater sensitivity for detection of low-frequency cells. Moreover, mRNA analysis reveals kinetic differences in cytokine expression that are not apparent at the protein level but provide novel insights into gene expression programs expected to define different T cell subsets. The utility of probing immunological memory of infections is demonstrated by detecting T cells that recognize mycobacterial and viral Ags in donors exposed to the respective pathogens.
This work was supported by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Grants AI106036 and AI104615.
The online version of this article contains supplemental material.
- Received June 16, 2014.
- Accepted November 11, 2014.
- Copyright © 2014 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.