The main prerequisites for the use of biotinylated ligands to study the expression of growth factor receptors on heterogeneous cell populations, such as peripheral blood or bone marrow, by flow cytometric methods, are that the biotinylated ligand retains its binding ability and that binding of the biotinylated ligand to the receptor does not inhibit the subsequent interaction of biotin with fluorescently tagged avidin or streptavidin. Using interleukin-2 (IL-2), we compared the usefulness of various biotinylation reagents, NHS-biotin, S-NHS-biotin, S-NHS-LC-biotin, DBB and photobiotin, and developed optimal biotinylation conditions for the preparation of biologically active biotin-labeled IL-2 and the detection of IL-2 receptor expressing cells by flow cytometry. As determined by spot blot analysis, biotinylation of IL-2 was most efficient at the highest biotin-to-protein (B:P) ratio used. At a B:P ratio of 100, most of the biological activity of IL-2 was retained when S-NHS-LC-biotin was used. In contrast, most of the biological activity of IL-2 samples that were labeled with NHS-biotin or photobiotin was lost under these conditions. Biotin-labeled IL-2 preparations were tested in order to detect IL-2 receptors on IL-2 dependent CTLL-2 cells by flow cytometry after sequential staining with the biotinylated IL-2 and fluorescence tagged streptavidin. A high B:P ratio generally resulted in a high specific fluorescence intensity of the cells, particularly when S-NHS-LC-biotin was used as the biotinylation reagent. Biotin-IL-2 could also be used to detect IL-2 receptors expressed by lymphocytes in peripheral blood and bone marrow. Comparison of staining of lymphocytes with biotinylated IL-2 and an antibody against the IL-2 receptor α chain demonstrated that only a subset of the cells that showed a strong fluorescence signal after staining with biotinylated IL-2 expressed high numbers of the IL-2 receptor α chain. This is in agreement with the expression of functional IL-2 receptors on resting T cells and NK cells which do not express the α chain. After stimulation with PHA, virtually all lymphocytes expressed the α chain, whereas only part of these cells showed a strong fluorescence signal after staining with biotin-IL-2, while the rest of the cells had very low numbers of IL-2 binding sites. Our results demonstrate that, in addition to staining individual receptor subunits with antibodies, staining with biotinylated IL-2 is a useful indicator of functional IL-2 receptor expression.

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Journal of Immunological Methods
Department of Hematology

de Jong, M.O, Rozemuller, H, Bauman, J.G.J, & Visser, J.W.M. (1995). Biotinylation of interleukin-2 (IL-2) for flow cytometric analysis of IL-2 receptor expression. Comparison of different methods. Journal of Immunological Methods, 184(1), 101–112. doi:10.1016/0022-1759(95)00080-T