Chromium-51 (51Cr) Release Assay to Assess Human T Cells for Functional Avidity and Tumor Cell Recognition   

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Original research article

A brief version of this protocol appeared in:
Cancer Research
May 2015


Cytotoxic CD8+ T cells are able to specifically recognize and kill target cells through specific interaction between their T cell receptors (TCRs) and small immunogenic peptides (antigens) presented by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. The antigen recognition capacity and in vitro lytic activity of antigen-specific cytotoxic T cells can be assessed functionally in the so-called chromium 51 (51Cr) release assay, which was developed almost 50 years ago in our institution (Brunner et al., 1968). Radioactively-labelled cells deficient for endogenous antigen presentation [e.g., transporter for antigen presentation (TAP)-deficient T2 cells] and stably transfected with the MHC of interest (e.g., HLA-A2+) are typically used as targets during this 4h assay. Alternatively, 51Cr-labelled virus-infected or tumor cell lines presenting immunogenic antigens endogenously can serve as target cells (e.g., for the assessment of tumor recognition).

In a peptide titration assay (section A), radioactively labelled target cells are pulsed with a serial dilution of the antigenic peptide and incubated at an effector (e.g., a CD8+ T cell clone) to target (51Cr -T2 cells) ratio (E:T) of 10:1 in a 96-well V-bottom plate for 4 h at 37 °C. In a tumor killing assay (section B), cytotoxic CD8+ effector cells are incubated at different ratios with the 51Cr-labelled target cell line (typically at E:T ratios of 30:1, 10:1, 3:1 and 1:1) in the presence or absence of the specific antigenic peptide (1 μM) and incubated for 4 h at 37 °C. At the end of the test, the amount of radioactivity release from the lysed target cells is determined in the supernatant using a liquid scintillation counter. The percentage of specific lysis, as well as the EC50 (i.e., 50% of maximal killing) and EMax values are then calculated, providing quantitative information about the antigen-specific functional avidity (i.e., the relative efficiency of T cell function based on antigen recognition via a defined TCR and maximal killing capacity of the analyzed T cells).

Keywords: CD8 T cell, Cytotoxic assay, Tumor killing assay, Chromium-51, Functional avidity

Copyright: © 2016 The Authors; exclusive licensee Bio-protocol LLC.
How to cite: Baumgaertner, P., Speiser, D. E., Romero, P., Rufer, N. and Hebeisen, M. (2016). Chromium-51 (51Cr) Release Assay to Assess Human T Cells for Functional Avidity and Tumor Cell Recognition. Bio-protocol 6(16): e1906. DOI: 10.21769/BioProtoc.1906.

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