Reveal More Biology: How Real-Time Kinetic Cell Health Assays Prove Their Worth

What if you could uncover a small but significant cellular response as your population of cells move toward apoptosis or necrosis? What if you could view the full picture of cellular changes rather than a single snapshot at one point? You can! There are real-time assays that can look at the kinetics of changes in cell viability, apoptosis, necrosis and cytotoxicity—all in a plate-based format. Seeking more information? Multiplex a real-time assay with endpoint analysis. From molecular profiling to complementary assays (e.g., an endpoint cell viability assay paired with a real-time apoptosis assay), you can discover more information hidden in the same cells during the same experiment.

Whether your research involves screening a panel of compounds or perturbing a regulatory pathway, a more complete picture of cellular changes gives you the benefit of more data points for better decision making. Rather than assessing the results of your experiment using a single time point, such as 48 hours, you could monitor cellular changes at regular intervals. For instance, a nonlytic live-cell reagent can be added to cultured cells and measurements taken repeatedly over time. Pairing a real-time cell health reagent with a detection instrument that can maintain the cells at the correct temperature means you can automate the measurements. These repeated measurements over time reveal the kinetic changes in the cells you are testing, giving a real-time status update of the cellular changes from the beginning to the end of your experiment. Continue reading

Real-Time Analysis for Cell Viability, Cytotoxicity and Apoptosis: What Would You Do with More Data from One Sample?

You are studying the effects of a compound(s) on your cells. You want to know how the compound affects cell health over a period of hours, or even days. Real-time assays allow you to monitor cell viability, cytotoxicity and apoptosis continuously, to detect changes over time.

Why use a real-time assay?
A real-time assay enables you to repeatedly measure specific events or conditions over time from the same sample or plate well. Repeated measurement is possible because the cells are not harmed by real-time assay reagents. Real-time assays allow you to collect data without lysing the cells.

Advantages of  Real-Time Measurement
Real-time assays allow you to: Continue reading

Inflammasomes and Pyroptosis

In today’s post, guest blogger,  Martha O’Brien, PhD, provides a preview of her upcoming AAI poster and block symposium talk on the inflammasome, caspase-1 activity and pyroptosis.

Schematic of the Caspase-Glo 1 Inflammasome Assay.

Schematic of the Caspase-Glo 1 Inflammasome Assay.

Responding rapidly to microbial pathogens and damage-associated molecular markers is critical to our innate immune system. Caspase-1 is pivotal in this process leading to processing and release of essential cytokines and an immunogenic form of cell death, termed pyroptosis. Upon sensing pathogen-associated and damage-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs and DAMPs), innate immune cells form inflammasome protein complexes that recruit and activate caspase-1 (canonical inflammasomes). In addition, other inflammatory caspases, 4 and 5 in humans and 11 in mice, directly bind bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS), triggering pyroptosis (non-canonical inflammasome). LPS-triggered non-canonical inflammasomes in mice and humans ultimately lead to canonical inflammasome engagement and caspase-1 activation (1–3).  Caspase-1 was originally termed interleukin converting enzyme (ICE) for its well-established role in processing IL-1ß and IL-18, two important inflammation cytokines. How caspase-1 mediates pyroptosis is less well understood, but is beginning to be delineated. Recently, a substrate of the inflammatory caspases, gasdermin D, was identified and its processed fragment, gasdermin-N domain, was shown to be required for pyroptosis in non-canonical inflammasome circumstances (4, 5). The precise role of gasdermin D in canonical inflammasome-triggered pyroptosis is still under investigation. Linking inflammatory caspases directly to pyroptosis is a notable step in understanding the mechanism of this important form of cell death.

Pyroptosis is clearly one means of releasing processed IL-1ß and IL-18 from the cell. However depending on the cell type and stimulus, there is evidence for inflammasome engagement, caspase-1 activation, and release of IL-1ß in the absence of cell death (6, 7). On the flip-side there is also evidence for caspase-1 mediated pyroptosis that helps clear bacteria, independent of IL-1ß and IL-18 involvement (8). To enable further studies on the inflammasome and in particular, assessing the connections between caspase-1 activation, pyroptosis, and cytokine release, Promega developed a new tool to conveniently monitor caspase-1 activation, the Caspase-Glo® 1 Inflammasome Assay.  This bioluminescent, plate-based assay is used to measure caspase-1 activity directly in cell cultures or to monitor released caspase-1 activity in culture medium from treated cells. This flexibility allows easy multiplexing to monitor all three outcomes of inflammasome stimulation; caspase-1 activity, pyroptosis, and release of IL-1ß and IL-18. Caspase-1 activation typically is monitored indirectly with western blots of processed caspase-1. Now the activity of the enzyme can be monitored directly, providing accurate information on temporal aspects of the inflammasome. The assay can be readily combined with real-time measures of cell death (e.g., CellTox™ Green Cytotoxicity Assay) and some of the culture medium can be removed for IL-1ß/IL-18 assessment, leaving the cells and remaining culture medium for caspase-1 activity measurements. At the upcoming meeting of the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) in Seattle, May 13th-17th, oral and poster presentations will highlight use of the Caspase-Glo® 1 Inflammasome Assay and its value for exploring the relationship between inflammasomes and pyroptosis.


  1. Schmid-Burgk et al. (2015) Caspase-4 mediates non-canonical activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome in human myeloid cells. J. Immunol. 45, 2911–7.
  2. Baker et al. (2015) NLRP3 inflammasome activation downstream of cytoplasmic LPS recognition by both caspase-4 and caspase-5. J. Immunol. 45, 2918–26.
  3. Ruhl, S. and P. Broz (2015) Caspase-11 activates a canonical NLRP3 inflammasome by promoting K+ Eur. J. Immunol. 45, 2927–36.
  4. Shi et al. (2015) Cleavage of GSDMD by inflammatory caspases determines pyroptotic cell death. Nature 526, 660–5.
  5. Kayagaki et al. (2015) Caspase-11 cleaves gasdermin D for non-canonical inflammasome signaling. Nature 526, 666–71.
  6. Gaidt et al. (2016) Human monocytes engage an alternative inflammasome pathway. Immunity 44, 833–46.
  7. Chen et al. (2014) The neutrophil NLRC4 inflammasome selectively promotes IL-1ß maturation without pyroptosis during acuteSalmonella Cell Reports 8, 570–82.
  8. Miao et al. (2010) Caspase-1-induced pyroptosis is an innate immune effector mechanism against intracellular bacteria. Nature Immunology 11, 1136–42.

Choosing the Right Cell Health Assay

artists view inside a cell

Based on the Illuminations article by Dr. Terry Riss, from our Cellular Analysis group.

Choosing the most appropriate cell health assay for your experiment can be difficult.  There are several factors to consider when choosing an assay: the question you are asking, the nature of your sample, the number of samples being tested, the required sensitivity, the nature of the sample, the plates and plate readers and the reagent costs.

What question are you asking?

The first, and perhaps most important factor to consider, is the question you need answered. What do you want to know at the end of the experiment? There are cell health assays available that specifically detect the number of living cells, the number of dead cells, and for assessing stress response mechanisms or pathways that may lead to cell death. Matching the assay endpoint to the information you need is vital to choosing the appropriate cell health assay. Continue reading

Piecing the Puzzle Together: Using Multiple Assays to Better Understand What Is Happening with Your Cells

You often need several pieces of information to really understand what is happening within a cell or population of cells. If your cells are not proliferating, are they dying? Or, are you seeing cytostasis? If they are dying, what is the mechanism? Is it apoptosis or necrosis? If you are seeing apoptosis, what is the pathway: intrinsic or extrinsic?

If you are measuring expression of a reporter gene and you see a decrease in expression, is that decrease due to transfection inefficiencies, cytotoxicity, or true down regulation of your reporter gene?

To investigate these multiple parameters, you can run assays in parallel, but that requires more sample, and sample isn’t always abundant.

Multiplexing assays allows you to obtain information about multiple parameters or events (e.g., reporter gene expression and cell viability; caspase-3 activity and cell viability) from a single sample. Multiplexing saves sample, saves time and gives you a more complete picture of the biology that is happening with your experimental sample.

What information do you need about your cells to complete the picture?

What information do you need about your cells to complete the picture?

Multiplexing assay reagents to measure biomarkers in the same sample has often been considered an application only accomplished with antibodies or dyes and sophisticated detection instrumentation. However, Promega has developed microwell plate based assays for cells in culture that allow multiplexed detection of biomarkers in the same sample well using standard multimode multiwell plate readers. Continue reading

The 64 billion dollar question: Is my compound or treatment toxic?

CellTox™ Green Dye is excluded from viable cells, but it binds to DNA from cells with compromised membrane integrity.

CellTox™ Green Dye is excluded from viable cells, but it binds to DNA from cells with compromised membrane integrity.

Determining the exact cause/effect relationship between a treatment and a cellular outcome is not a simple matter, but is critical for really understanding how therapeutic treatments affect target cells or exercise any off-target effects.

Four key factors are critical for determining whether or not a particular treatment or compound is toxic.

  1. Dosage (usually addressed by a dilution series)
  2. Exposure time
  3. Mechanism of Action
  4. Cell Type

In a recent Promega Webinar, A Cytotoxicity Assay That Fits Your Timeline, Promega scientist Dr. Andrew Niles presented the CellTox™ Green Cytotoxicity Assay—a new tool that gives researchers more power to answer the question “Is my compound or treatment toxic?” Continue reading

Predictive In Vitro Cytotoxicity Testing

Cell culture cytotoxicity testing is used as a predictor for animal toxicity. High-throughput cytotoxicity screening using ATP levels as an indicator of cell viability is the current gold standard for such predictive cytotoxicity testing. Multiplexing assay chemistries allows researchers to measure multiple parameters on a single sample in order to get a more complete picture of what is happening when cells are exposed to a treatment compound. For example multiplex assays using three protease activities as markers of viable, necrotic and apoptotic cells give researchers a tool for uncovering the mechanism of cell death when toxicity is observed and control for assay artifacts. In their book chapter, “Cytotoxicity Testing: Measuring Viable Cells, Dead Cells and Detecting Mechanism of Cell Death”, Riss, Moravec and Niles, describe protocols for in vitro toxicity testing using ATP-based assays and multiplex assays. The chapter provides protocols, an extensive materials required list, example data, and a thorough notes section describing appropriate controls, issues of assay timing, and other considerations that affect assay success. You can find it in Methods in Molecular Biology Vol. 740, Mammalian Cell Viability Methods and Protocols (Humana Press).

Tips for Multiplex Cell-Based Assay Success

The ability to analyze more than one cellular biomarker in a single sample is advantageous for a number of reasons. Multiplexing allows researchers to save money and time, while conserving precious samples. In addition, understanding the relationship between cell biomarkers can provide a more complete picture of cell health that can lead to improved predictive models for drug discovery. Understanding biomarker relationships can also minimize ambiguity in the data set and validate if a treatment effect is real or an artifact of the system. To avoid repeat experiments and extract the most biologically relevant data from multiplex assays, consider these tips when performing multiplex cell-based assays.
Continue reading

Describing Life and Death in the Cell

4621CALife is complicated. So is death. And when the cells in your multiwell plate die after compound treatment, it’s not enough to know that they died. You need to know how they died: apoptosis or necrosis? Or, have you really just reduced viability, rather than induced death? Is the cytotoxicity you see dose-dependent? If you look earlier during drug treatment of your cells, do you see markers of apoptosis? If you wait longer, do you observe necrosis? If you reduce the dosage of your test compound, is it still cytotoxic? Continue reading