The development of a quantitative spreading assay of macrophage activation is described. The assay involved incubation of macrophages on glass cover slips for 1 hour and assessment of cell size using a microscope attached to a microcomputer-assisted digitising system which allowed the diameter of 200 cells to be assessed within 10 minutes. Mouse peritoneal macrophages were used in the development of the assay. Internal consistency of the assay was shown by minimal inter-observer, intra-observer and inter-animal variation. Validation of the assay as a measure of macrophage activation was confirmed by the use of in vivo and in vitro activating agents. Once validated the assay was used to detect activation in alveolar macrophages from rats exposed to airborne asbestos. The macrophage spreading assay described here is quick, reliable, consistent and easy to perform and has a potentially wide application in studies of macrophage function and dysfunction.
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