• Dithiothreitol;
  • flow cytometry;
  • induced sputum;
  • peripheral blood leukocytes


Pretreatment with dithiothreitol (DTT) is necessary to dissolve mucus in samples of induced sputum prior to analysis. However, DTT may affect cell surface markers which are essential for lymphocyte subtyping. Therefore, the aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of DTT on an appropriate panel of surface markers. Peripheral blood leukocytes were used because these cells, in contrast to sputum cells, could be obtained without DTT treatment.

Peripheral blood from healthy donors was incubated with either DTT according to standard sputum procedures or phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), washed and incubated with fluorochrome-labelled antibodies. After lysis of erythrocytes, analysis was performed using a calibrated flow cytometer. Leukocyte populations were identified by their light scattering properties. For analysis, fluorescence intensity was compared between DTT- and PBS-treated samples.

After treatment with DTT, fluorescence intensity was significantly increased in CD16-positive granulocytes; it was reduced in CD2-positive lymphocytes, CD45-positive lymphocytes and CD14-positive monocytes (p≤0.001). These changes occurred in all samples. The fluorescence intensity of CD3-, CD4-, CD8-, CD19-, CD56- and histocompatibility leukocyte antigen DR-positive lymphocytes was not altered by DTT. However, there were statistically significant (p<0.001), although small, changes in the percentages of leukocytes.

The present data demonstrate that, although dithiothreitol as used in sputum analysis affects some surface markers of peripheral blood leukocytes, comparability between samples concerning lymphocyte surface markers is preserved. Therefore, it is suggested that treatment of sputum samples with dithiothreitol does not invalidate the immunocytochemical analysis of lymphocytes.