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A flow cytometry technique to study intracellular signals NF-κB and STAT3 in peripheral blood mononuclear cells

Sandrine Lafarge12, Hind Hamzeh-Cognasse2, Patricia Chavarin1, Christian Genin2, Olivier Garraud12 and Fabrice Cognasse12*

Author Affiliations

1 EFS Auvergne-Loire, Saint-Etienne, France

2 GIMAP EA3064, Faculty of Medecine, University of Saint-Etienne, France

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BMC Molecular Biology 2007, 8:64  doi:10.1186/1471-2199-8-64

Published: 31 July 2007



Cytokines have essential roles on intercellular communications and are effective in using a variety of intracellular pathways. Among this multitude of signalling pathways, the NF-κB (nuclear factor kappaB) and STAT (signal transducer and activator of transcription) families are among the most frequently investigated because of their importance. Indeed, they have important role in innate and adaptive immunity. Current techniques to study NF-κB and STAT rely on specific ELISAs, Western Blots and – most recently described – flow cytometry; so far, investigation of such signalling pathways are most commonly performed on homogeneous cells after purification.


The present investigation aimed at developing a flow cytometry technique to study transcription factors in various cellular types such as mixtures of B-cells, T-lymphocytes and monocytes/macrophages stimulated in steady state conditions (in other words, as peripheral blood mononuclear cells). To achieve this goal, a two step procedure was carried out; the first one consisted of stimulating PBMCs with IL1β, sCD40L and/or IL10 in such a manner that optimal stimulus was found for each cell subset (and subsequent signal transduction, therefore screened by specific ELISA); the second step consisted of assessing confirmation and fine delineation of technical conditions by specific Western-Blotting for either NF-κB or STAT products. We then went on to sensitize the detection technique for mixed cells using 4 color flow cytometry.


In response to IL1β, or IL10, the levels of phosphorylated NF-κB and STAT3 – respectively – increased significantly for all the studied cell types. In contrast, B-cells and monocytes/macrophages – but, interestingly, not T-lymphocytes (in the context of PBMCs) – responded significantly to sCD40L by increasing phosphorylated NF-κB.