Instantaneous evaluation of mammalian cell culture growth rates through analysis of the mitotic index

Nicholas R. Abu-Absi, Friedrich Srienc

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16 Scopus citations


Since a culture increases in cell number when dividing cells separate into two newborn cells, the fraction of mitotic cells in a growing cell population directly reflects the overall growth behavior of a cell culture. To rapidly assess the effects of growth conditions on the fraction of mitotic cells we have employed an antibody specific for the phosphorylated form of histone H3 for the identification of mitotic cells using flow cytometry. The phosphorylation of histone H3 closely correlates with the chromosomal condensation that accompanies the onset of mitosis, and, therefore, it represents a convenient marker for dividing cells. We have optimized the protocol for the staining of mitotic cells for both Chinese hamster ovary and hybridoma cell cultures. Fluorescence micrographs taken of stained cells show that cells in the various stages of mitosis can be detected based on the morphological characteristics of the chromosomes. The variation in the mitotic cell fraction has been determined throughout the batch growth phases of cultures under different growth conditions. The dynamics of the mitotic index show that balanced growth was never truly reached and that the growth rate is in fact quite variable for these cultures since large variations in the mitotic index are observed. In addition, a large increase in the fraction of mitotic cells just prior to the exponential growth phase for all cultures indicates that they are partially synchronized at the exit from the lag phase. According to a two-staged, age structured population balance model, the mitotic index is directly proportional to the growth rate of a culture. The proportionality constant for this case is shown to be the time required for cells to progress through mitosis. This time is believed to be constant for a particular cell line, as shown by experimental data. Thus, growth rates can be determined solely by measurement of the fraction of cells in mitosis. The mitotic index measurements were then used to calculate the growth in cell number of the cultures, and these simulations accurately reflect observed cell counts. Other simulations also show that changes in cell growth can be predicted before they are reflected in the cell count data. This technique can be used as a sensitive indicator of cell growth and could be useful as a process monitoring technique and for developing better feeding strategies for animal cell cultures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-84
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Biotechnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 25 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Susan Fugett Abu-Absi in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Mark Sanders at the Imaging Center in the College of Biological Sciences for their assistance with the immuno-staining and fluorescence imaging. The population balance model was implemented with the help of Nikolaos Mantzaris in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. We are grateful for support provided by the National Science Foundation (Grant no.: BES-9708146).


  • Animal cell culture
  • Bioprocess monitoring
  • Cell cycle
  • Flow cytometry
  • Histone H3
  • Mitosis


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