Rapid colorimetric assay for cell growth and survival: Modifications to the tetrazolium dye procedure giving improved sensitivity and reliability
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Journal of Immunological Methods 89 (2): 271 -- 277 (1986)

A convenient way to estimate the number of viable cells growing in microtitre tray wells is to use a colorimetric assay and an automatic microplate scanning spectrophotometer. One such assay, developed by Mosmann, depends on the reduction by living cells of tetrazolium salt, MTT, to form a blue formazan product. However the original technique has several technical limitations, namely a less than optimal sensitivity, a variable background due to protein precipitation on adding an organic solvent to dissolve the blue formazan product, and a low solubility of the product. These problems have been overcome by the following modifications: avoidance of serum in the incubation medium, thus overcoming precipitation problems in the organic solvent; avoidance of phenol red in the incubation medium, thus avoiding the use of acid in the final solvent which altered the spectral properties of the formazan; elimination of the medium containing MTT after the reaction and subsequent use of pure propanol or ethanol to rapidly solubilize the formazan; use of a higher concentration of MTT; use of half-area microtitre trays to increase the spectrophotometer readings from a given amount of formazan; use of a more judicious reference wavelength in a dual wavelength spectrophotometer. With these modifications the reliability and sensitivity of the test have been increased to the point where it can in many cases replace the 3Hthymidine uptake assay to measure cell proliferation or survival in growth factor or cytotoxicity assays. Examples of its use in IL-2 assays are given.
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