Out of the Laboratory and Into the Field: Validation of Portable Cell Culture Protocols

Thomas W. Mcdade*, Jacob E. Aronoff, Adam K.K. Leigh, Eric D. Finegood, Rachel M. Weissman-Tsukamoto, Gene H. Brody, Gregory E. Miller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective Field-based research on inflammation and health is typically limited to baseline measures of circulating cytokines or acute-phase proteins, whereas laboratory-based studies can pursue a more dynamic approach with ex vivo cell culture methods. The laboratory infrastructure required for culturing leukocytes limits application in community-based settings, which in turn limits scientific understandings of how psychosocial, behavioral, and contextual factors influence the regulation of inflammation. We aim to address this gap by validating two "field-friendly"cell culture protocols, one using a small volume of venous whole blood and another using finger-stick capillary whole blood. Methods We evaluated the performance of both protocols against a standard laboratory-based protocol using matched venous and capillary blood samples collected from young adults (n = 24). Samples were incubated with lipopolysaccharide and hydrocortisone, and the production of proinflammatory cytokines interleukin 1β, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor α was measured in response. Results Comparisons indicate a high level of agreement in responses across the protocols and culture conditions. The overall correlation in results was 0.88 between the standard and small-volume protocols and 0.86 between the standard and capillary blood protocols. Repeatability for the small-volume and capillary blood protocols was high, with mean coefficients of variation across five replicates of 6.2% and 5.4%, respectively. Conclusions These results demonstrate the feasibility of culturing cells and quantifying the inflammatory response to challenge outside the laboratory, with a wide range of potential applications in biobehavioral research in community-based and remote field settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-290
Number of pages8
JournalPsychosomatic medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021


  • cell culture
  • dried blood spots
  • endotoxin
  • glucocorticoid resistance
  • inflammation
  • psychoneuroimmunology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology


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