Single cell tracking of gadolinium labeled CD4(+) T cells by laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry

Cellular therapy is emerging as a promising alternative to conventional immunosuppression in the fields of haematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation, autoimmune disease and solid organ transplantation. Determining the persistence of cell-based therapies in vivo is crucial to understanding their regulatory function and requires the combination of an extremely sensitive detection technique and a stable, long-lifetime cell labelling agent. This paper reports the first application of laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to perform single cell detection of T cell populations relevant to cellular immunotherapy. Purified human CD4+ T cells were labelled with commercially available Gd-based MRI contrast agents, Omniscan® and Dotarem®, which enabled passive loading of up to 108 Gd atoms per cell. In mixed preparations of labelled and unlabelled cells, LA-ICP-MS was capable of enumerating labelled cells at close to the predicted ratio. More importantly, LA-ICP-MS single cell analysis demonstrated that the cells retained sufficient label to remain detectable for up to 10 days post-labelling both in vitro and in vivo in an immunodeficient mouse model.