Separation of Leucocytes: Improved Cell Purity by Fine Adjustments of Gradient Medium Density and Osmolality


Ante Boyum, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, Division for Environmental Toxicology, P.O. Box 25, N-2007, Kjeller, Norway


This paper briefly reviews commonly used procedures for separation or mononuclear cells (MNC) and granulocytes from human blood with X-ray contrast media as gradient material, and also presents new and modified procedures for leucocyte preparation. Standard techniques for human blood do not always yield satisfactory results with blood from other species. In general pure MNC are easily obtained (top fraction), but often the granulocyte fraction has a low purity, due to contamination with MNC that move to the bottom during centrifugation and contaminate the granulocyte suspension. Obviously the density distribution of MNC differs between species, However. the separation can be improved by tine adjustment of gradient medium osmolality. For this purpose we have used Nycodenz a non-ionic X-ray contrast medium, A favourable property of Nycodenz solutions is that the osmolality and density can easily be varied over a broad range. The cells react promptly to a change of medium osmolality. In hypertonic medium the cells expel water. shrink, their density increases and they sediment faster, in spite of a smaller radius. Further. the cells may pass what was initially a density barrier. A hypotonic environment has the opposite effect.

In the present work we were able to show that a slight change of medium osmolality clearly improved different techniques for separation of leucocyte subgroups. For instance, the Isopaque Ficoll (IF) technique consistently yielded MNC and granulocytes of high purity with human blood. However, with blood from rabbits, rats and mice the granulocyte suspensions were contaminated by 40-60%, MNC- By utilizing Nycodenz. and lowering the osmolality by 10-12 per cent (at constant density–1.077 g/ml) we obtained satisfactory separation of MNC as well as granulocytes with blood from these species.

A problem in the routine separation of granuloccytes (IF) is a high contamination of erythrocytes (2 5 per cell) in the granulocyte suspension. With a two-layer technique with Nycodenz solutions of different densities it was possible lo separate granulocytes almost devoid of erythrocytes. after proper adjustment of osmolatily, By appropriate combination of density and osmolality, Nycodenz was a suitable gradient material in other separation procedures as well, e.g. the separation of monocytes and mast cells.

To facilitate the use of Nycodenz as a versatile gradient material, a computer program providing recipes for various Nycodenz solutions is included as an appendix.