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ISSN: 1426-3912
Central European Journal of Immunology
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vol. 39

Experimental immunology
Application of flow cytometry in diagnosing lymphomas in dogs and cats

Olga Aniołek
Zdzisław Gajewski
Sławomir Giziński

(Centr Eur J Immunol 2014; 39 (3): 327-330)
Online publish date: 2014/10/14
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Lymphomas are the most common type of lymphoproliferative malignant neoplasms in dogs and cats. They comprise a diverse group as far as morphology, phenotype, clinical manifestations, signs, prognosis and treatment are concerned [1]. The majority of lymphomas in dogs (80-85% of cases) affect nodes with B-cell lymphomas being, just like in humans, the most common variant of the disease [2]. Nevertheless, T-cell type lymphomas are also diagnosed [3]. Apart from lymphomas originating from B-cells and T-cells, a certain percentage of tumours not displaying the expression of any of the markers defining their connection to the line of T- or B-lymphocytes (null, non-B, non-T) or possessing markers characteristic of both types of lymphocytes can also be observed. Prognosis depends not only on the cell line of the neoplasm, but also on the location, cell characteristics and the tumour development stage. In cats, the diagnosis is more difficult due to the fact that extranodal, digestive and respiratory system lymphomas are observed [4]. Digestive tract lymphoma is quite frequent, however it is difficult to diagnose as taking of the biological sample is difficult. Moreover, plasmocyte infiltration and reactive hyperplasms present during inflammatory processes further hinder cytological and histopathological examinations. Additionally, lymphomas with nonhomogeneous groups of lymphocytes containing reactive plasma cells, lymphocytes and other inflammatory cells pose yet another problem.

Immunophenotyping by flow cytometry

One of the aims of immunophenotyping of flow cytometry is to determine the type of lymphocytes in samples submerged in liquid according to light scattering capabilities and expression of surface markers. This method allows for quick quantitative and qualitative evaluation of population of hematopoietic cells, etc. In this case, it is used in order to discern lymphocytes affected by the neoplasm [5, 6]. Lymphocytes have a large number of various particles, which allow for their identification. Some of them, known as markers of main cell lines, are present in all lymph cells e.g. CD45, other subpopulations of T lymphocytes (CD2, CD3, CD5, CD7) and B (CD19, CD20, CD22, CD79). In certain situations some markers of a single cell line may be subject to co-expression on cells from a different line e.g. from CD5, which is often present is some B cell population. Furthermore, a significant number of markers are present only temporarily, in a determined sequence on certain cells, during maturation, differentiation and activation. Markers of maturation for one line may be markers of activation for other lines [7].

Antibody panels used in diagnosis of lymphomas in dogs and cats

Nowadays, when attempting to detect a lymphoma, it is recommended to determine the phenotype using the biggest range of available antibodies. Use of flow cytometry for diagnosing a lymphoma is limited by the fact that neoplastic lymphocytes may not possess the same phenotype as their non-neoplastic equivalents. Moreover, they may exhibit surface markers inappropriate to their level of differentiation or exhibit additional markers not connected to neoplastic cells. Antibody panels evaluating lymphoid tissue with a smaller number of antibodies evaluating the granulocyte line, monocytes, erythroid line and megakaryocyte cells are available for cats and dogs (Table 1). Owing to that fact, it is strongly recommended to use an antibody panel that characterises the population of neoplastic cells (Table 2). Some phenotypes and expression models possess specific prognostic markers (Table 3) [8-12]. Leukaemia or lymphoma induced lymphocytosis is characterised by homogenic expansion of cells with an identical phenotype. Reactive lymphocytes can be heterogenic and consist of a few subgroups of lymphocytes. An important exception to this conception may be the presence of homogenic monoclonal expansion of CD8 T cells observed in Ehrlichia canis [13].
Examination of lymphoid markers on hyperplastic cells provides a lot of valuable information facilitating differential diagnosis. It also enables identification of types of lymphomas, which are very similar in the cytological or histological picture. Small cell lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic leukaemia exhibits morphological similarity (especially in cytological examination) to lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma and mantle cell lymphoma. All these types of hyperplasms may exhibit blood smear during the course of the disease and have a similar clinical picture. In differential diagnosis of these hyperplasms, an appropriate panel of monoclonal antibodies (CD5, CD20, CD22, CD23) and detection of Ig in cytoplasm or on the surface of neoplastic cells is highly useful. Differentiation between lymphoma and nonhyperplastic conditions in lymph nodes is a very important and difficult task. Attempts to differentiate between lymphoma of follicle centre (follicular lymphoma – FL) and reactive hyperplasms in lymph nodes may serve as a good example. In this case, identification of the monoclonal protein, i.e.  or  immunoglobulin chains is an indicator of the hyperplastic character of cells.

Taking samples for flow cytometric analysis

Blood sample and body cavity fluids (cerebrospinal fluid, peritoneal fluid, exudative fluid, transudative fluid, etc.) for immunophenotyping by flow cytometry are to be placed in a test tube with EDTA. Samples obtained via FNA (fine needle aspiration) from tissues (e.g. lymph nodes) should be placed in test tubes containing Ringer’s solution buffered with a small amount of serum (bovine serum is commonly used) in order to stabilize the sample prior to analysis. It is best to contact the diagnostic laboratory in order to establish the procedures concerning transportation of the biological material. Usually, the minimum of 2 × 106 cells is necessary in order to apply a complete panel of immunophenotyping by flow cytometry. It is important that samples from different parts should not come in contact with one another. Material should be cooled down but not frozen. The time of delivery of the biological material to the laboratory is also important as any delay may cause cell death and/or loss of intensity of expression of a given surface marker. Diagnostic material can be preserved for the maximal period of 3 days. Most of the laboratories in America, Europe and Asia use a similar antibody panel for leukocyte characterisation.


Immunophenotyping by flow cytometry is a method used in research centres but it is becoming available in an increasing number of veterinary laboratories. Flow cytometry is a modern analytic method of biochemical and physical properties of cells. In mere seconds, with unmatched precision and reproducibility, it is possible to detect rare and unusual subpopulations. Morphological properties of a certain hyperplasm are imperturbably important as they give direction to phenotypic tests, but on their own are insufficient. It is important to remember to analyse each and every result individually and correlate it with results of morphological tests carried out on the same material (histopathological, cytogenetic) taking the age of the patient, reactive changes and autoimmune diseases into consideration.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright: © 2014 Polish Society of Experimental and Clinical Immunology This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.
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