A novel assay of antimycobacterial activity and phagocytosis by human neutrophils

David M. Lowe, Nonzwakazi Bangani, Meera R. Mehta, Dirk M. Lang, Adriano G. Rossi, Katalin A. Wilkinson, Robert J. Wilkinson, Adrian R. Martineau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite abundant evidence that neutrophils arrive early at sites of mycobacterial disease and phagocytose organisms, techniques to assay phagocytosis or killing of mycobacteria by these cells are lacking. Existing assays for measuring the antimycobacterial activity of human leukocytes require cell lysis which introduces new bioactive substances and may be incomplete. They are also time-consuming and carry multiple risks of inaccuracy due to serial dilution and organism clumping. Flow cytometric techniques for measuring phagocytosis of mycobacteria by human cells have failed to adequately address the effects of organism clumping, quenching agents and culture conditions on readouts.

Here we present a novel in-tube bioluminescence-based assay of antimycobacterial activity by human neutrophils. The assay yields intuitive results, with improving restriction of mycobacterial bioluminescence as the ratio of cells to organisms increases. We show that lysis of human cells is not required to measure luminescence accurately.

We also present a phagocytosis assay in which we have minimised the impact of mycobacterial clumping, investigated the effect of various opsonisation techniques and established the correct usage of trypan blue to identify surface-bound organisms without counting dead cells. The same multiplicity of infection and serum conditions are optimal to demonstrate both internalisation and restriction of mycobacterial growth. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-178
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Early online date17 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Flow cytometry
  • Granulocytes
  • Tuberculosis
  • Bio-luminescence

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