UNIT 14.6 Measurement of Bacterial Ingestion and Killing by Macrophages

  1. Priscilla A. Campbell,
  2. Beth P. Canono,
  3. Douglas A. Drevets

Published Online: 1 MAY 2001

DOI: 10.1002/0471142735.im1406s12

Current Protocols in Immunology

Current Protocols in Immunology

How to Cite

Campbell, P. A., Canono, B. P. and Drevets, D. A. 2001. Measurement of Bacterial Ingestion and Killing by Macrophages. Current Protocols in Immunology. 12:14.6:14.6.1–14.6.13.

Author Information

  1. National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, Denver, Colorado

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 MAY 2001
  2. Published Print: DEC 1994

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (1 APR 2015)


This unit presents fairly simple assays for measuring the binding of bacteria to macrophages, internalization of bacteria (also called ingestion or phagocytosis), and bacterial killing by macrophages. The first basic protocol describes how to measure the ability of macrophages to ingest bacteria. Because it is critical to remove residual extracellular organisms, the protocol presents two alternative steps to accomplish this: a washing procedure and a more stringent method in which cells are sedimented through sucrose. In addition, it is important to distinguish those bacteria truly ingested by a macrophage from those that are bound to, but not internalized by, the cell. A simple but effective way to do this is described in an alternate protocol. The unit also presents two ways to measure the ability of a macrophage to kill bacteria it has internalized. The first is a straightforward assay in which bacterial colonies are enumerated before and after a killing period; a subsequent colony count will indicate whether the bacteria grew within or were killed by the macrophage. The second protocol describes a way to measure bacterial viability based on bacterial metabolism, in which the ability of bacterial dehydrogenases to mediate the reduction of a tetrazolium salt to purple formazan is monitored by measuring absorbance spectrophotometrically.