• Collagen II;
  • Antigen-specific T cells;
  • Flow cytometry;
  • BrdU;
  • Rheumatoid arthritis


T cell activation and secretion of cytokines from activated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) in culture have traditionally been measured by 3H-thymidine incorporation for assessment of cell proliferation. However, this method has many disadvantages that limit its usage in analyzing antigen-specific T responses, because of the low specific frequencies of the cells. Collagen II (250–270) may be an important autoantigen involved in the pathology of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). To further study the specific T cells response to CII 250–270, we developed an improved method for measuring lymphocyte proliferation and activation, and intracellular cytokine production, by flow cytometry at the single cell level. BrdU, an analog of thymidine, was incorporated into cellular DNA as a marker of individual cell proliferation. The cells were fixed and permeabilized, and a monoclonal antibody against BrdU conjugated with a fluorescent dye was used to measure BrdU incorporation. A Tris staining technique for the simultaneous determination of cell surface activation markers (CD69 or CD25) and intracellular cytokine production was also used and the parameters were assessed by 3-color flow cytometry. Optimal conditions were selected to improve the sensitivity and specificity of the assays. This method allowed simultaneous detection of lymphocytic DNA synthesis, phenotype analysis and cytokine production at the single cell level, and thus it may be a useful tool for analyzing immune responses.