Indirect Immunofluorescence of Cultured Cells


Immunofluorescence is an immunoassay for the detection of specific cellular constituents using antibodies conjugated to a fluorochrome. Indirect immunofluorescence refers to a two‐step procedure, whereby the target‐specific, primary antibodies are applied unlabelled and are detected with fluorochrome‐conjugated secondary antibodies. Its main applications are identification and localization of cell components by fluorescence microscopy, and automated identification, sorting and quantification of fluorescent cells by flow cytometry.

Keywords: antigen; antibody; fluorochrome; fluorescence microscopy; flow cytometry

Figure 1.

Indirect immunofluorescence staining of neurons in primary dissociated culture. Neurons from embryonic rat hippocampus were dissociated mechanically and by enzymatic treatment, plated in Petri dishes, and maintained up to 3 weeks in vitro using a conditioned medium.

(a) For staining ‘live’, cells were transferred into glucose‐containing Ringer solution, processed for immunofluorescence staining using a guinea‐pig antiserum against the GABAA receptor γ2 subunit as primary antibody and goat anti‐guinea‐pig IgGs coupled to the red fluorescent carbocyanine dye, Cy3, and visualized by phase contrast and epifluorescence microscopy with a 63× water immersion lens. The primary antibody was directed against an extracellular epitope and therefore binds to GABAA receptors inserted in the membrane. The image was captured using a charge coupled device (CCD) camera and depicts the superposition of the phase contrast and the fluorescence pictures captured separately. The red puncta on the soma and neurites of the immunopositive cell represent GABAA receptors aggregated at postsynaptic sites.

(b) For double‐immunofluorescence staining, cells were fixed with methanol (−20°C, 10 min) and incubated in a mixture of two primary antibodies (guinea‐pig antiserum against the GABAA receptor γ2 subunit and mouse monoclonal antibody against synaptophysin), followed by a mixture of two secondary antibodies (goat anti‐guinea‐pig IgGs conjugated to Cy3 and goat anti‐mouse IgGs linked to Cy2). Images were captured by confocal laser scanning microscopy using a 100× oil immersion lens. The picture represents the superposition of the two fluorescence images captured simultaneously with distinct detectors. The green staining reveals presynaptic axon terminals immunopositive for synaptophysin and the red‐staining postsynaptic GABAA receptors mostly aggregated at sites of synaptic contact.


Further Reading

Banker G and Goslin K (1998) Culturing Nerve Cells. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Essrich C, Lorez M, Benson JA, Fritschy JM and Lüscher B (1998) Postsynaptic clustering of major GABAA receptor subtypes requires the γ2 subunit and gephyrin. Nature Neuroscience 1: 563–571.

Gähwiler BH, Capogna M, Debanne D, McKinney RA and Thompson SM (1997) Organotypic slice cultures: a technique has come of age. Trends in Neurosciences 20: 471–477.

Herman B (1998) Fluorescence Microscopy, 2nd edn. New York: Springer‐Verlag.

Mather JP and Roberts PE (1998) Introduction to Cell and Tissue Culture: Theory and Technique. New York: Plenum Press.

Matsumoto B (1993) Cell Biological Applications of Confocal Microscopy (Methods in Cell Biology, vol. 38). London: Academic Press.

Rizzuto R and Fasolato C (1999) Imaging Living Cells. New York: Springer‐Verlag.

Stoppini L, Buchs PA and Muller D (1991) A simple method for organotypic cultures of nervous tissue. Journal of Neuroscience Methods 37: 173–182.

Taylor DL and Wang YL (1989) Fluorescence Microscopy of Living Cells in Culture, Parts A and B (Methods in Cell Biology, vols 29 and 30). London: Academic Press.

Watson JV (1991) Introduction to Flow Cytometry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Fritschy, Jean‐Marc, and Härtig, Wolfgang(Jun 2001) Indirect Immunofluorescence of Cultured Cells. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0002627]