• Open Access

Interpretation of cellular proliferation data: Avoid the panglossian


  • Mario Roederer

    Corresponding author
    1. ImmunoTechnology Section, Vaccine Research Center, NIAID, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland
    • Vaccine Research Center, NIH, 40 Convent Dr., Room 5509, Bethesda, MD 20892-3015, USA
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  • The author has a financial interest in FlowJo, one of the software packages discussed in this report.

  • This article is a US government work and, as such, is in the public domain in the United States of America.


There are several statistics that may be calculated to characterize a cellular proliferation experiment. By far, the most commonly-reported statistic is the percent of cells in the final culture that have divided; however, this statistic has significant limitations. Other statistics provided by software modeling provide a much richer characterization of the biological response; however, their use also comes with caveats. Here, I discuss the practical application of these statistics, including their limitations and interdependencies, using hypothetical data. The goal of this perspective is to prevent the blind reliance or overly optimistic (“panglossian”) interpretation of the statistics generated by software, so that researchers and reviewers have a more-informed basis for drawing conclusions from the data. Published 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.