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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Methodology article

Flow cytometric monitoring of influenza A virus infection in MDCK cells during vaccine production

Josef Schulze-Horsel1*, Yvonne Genzel1 and Udo Reichl12

Author Affiliations

1 Bioprocess Engineering, Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, Sandtorstrasse 1, 39106 Magdeburg, Germany

2 Lehrstuhl fuer Bioprozesstechnik, Otto-von-Guericke-Universitaet Magdeburg, P.O. box 4120, 39016 Magdeburg, Germany

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BMC Biotechnology 2008, 8:45  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-8-45

Published: 30 April 2008



In cell culture-based influenza vaccine production the monitoring of virus titres and cell physiology during infection is of great importance for process characterisation and optimisation. While conventional virus quantification methods give only virus titres in the culture broth, data obtained by fluorescence labelling of intracellular virus proteins provide additional information on infection dynamics. Flow cytometry represents a valuable tool to investigate the influences of cultivation conditions and process variations on virus replication and virus yields.


In this study, fluorescein-labelled monoclonal antibodies against influenza A virus matrix protein 1 and nucleoprotein were used for monitoring the infection status of adherent Madin-Darby canine kidney cells from bioreactor samples. Monoclonal antibody binding was shown for influenza A virus strains of different subtypes (H1N1, H1N2, H3N8) and host specificity (human, equine, swine). At high multiplicity of infection in a bioreactor, the onset of viral protein accumulation in adherent cells on microcarriers was detected at about 2 to 4 h post infection by flow cytometry. In contrast, a significant increase in titre by hemagglutination assay was detected at the earliest 4 to 6 h post infection.


It is shown that flow cytometry is a sensitive and robust method for the monitoring of viral infection in fixed cells from bioreactor samples. Therefore, it is a valuable addition to other detection methods of influenza virus infection such as immunotitration and RNA hybridisation. Thousands of individual cells are measured per sample. Thus, the presented method is believed to be quite independent of the concentration of infected cells (multiplicity of infection and total cell concentration) in bioreactors. This allows to perform detailed studies on factors relevant for optimization of virus yields in cell cultures. The method could also be used for process characterisation and investigations concerning reproducibility in vaccine manufacturing.