Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) – August 9, 2021

Marcia Grayson, Shao-Chiang Lai, Lydia H. Bederka, Patricia Araujo, Jamila Sanchez, Xavier T. Reveles, Vivienne I. Rebel, Jennifer Rebeles

Sputum, widely used to study the cellular content and other microenvironmental features to understand the health of the lung, is traditionally analyzed using cytology-based methodologies. Its utility is limited because reading the slides is time-consuming and requires highly specialized personnel. Moreover, extensive debris and the presence of too many squamous epithelial cells (SECs), or cheek cells, often renders a sample inadequate for diagnosis. In contrast, flow cytometry allows for high-throughput phenotyping of cellular populations while simultaneously excluding debris and SECs.

The protocol presented here describes an efficient method to dissociate sputum into a single cell suspension, antibody stain and fix cellular populations, and acquire samples on a flow cytometric platform. A gating strategy that describes the exclusion of debris, dead cells (including SECs) and cell doublets is presented here. Further, this work also explains how to analyze viable, single sputum cells based on a cluster of differentiation (CD)45 positive and negative populations to characterize hematopoietic and epithelial lineage subsets. A quality control measure is also provided by identifying lung-specific macrophages as evidence that a sample is derived from the lung and is not saliva. Finally, it has been demonstrated that this method can be applied to different cytometric platforms by providing sputum profiles from the same patient analyzed on three flow cytometers; Navios EX, LSR II, and Lyric. Furthermore, this protocol can be modified to include additional cellular markers of interest. A method to analyze an entire sputum sample on a flow cytometric platform is presented here that makes sputum amenable for developing high-throughput diagnostics of lung disease.

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