International journal of hygiene and environmental health

Application of flow cytometry and PMA-qPCR to distinguish between membrane intact and membrane compromised bacteria cells in an aquatic milieu.

PMID 25936763


The paper compares two methods of distinguishing between alive and dead cells by differentiation on the basis of their membrane structure: LIVE/DEAD flow cytometry and PMA-qPCR. LIVE/DEAD flow cytometry was established using the LIVE/DEAD(®) BacLight™ Bacterial Viability Kit with different ratios of Legionella pneumophila and Escherichia coli cells with intact and compromised membranes (heat treated). The PMA-qPCR method was tested and modified, and results were compared with those from LIVE/DEAD flow cytometry using L. pneumophila cells. Ratios of membrane intact to membrane compromised cells were well shown by LIVE/DEAD flow cytometry in all combinations. PMA-qPCR seems to work best in even mixed ratios (1:1) of intact and compromised cells. In other respects, we noticed an overestimation of intact cells in the samples which contained a high percentage of membrane compromised cells, and an underestimation of intact cells in samples with a small percentage of membrane compromised cells. However, looking at total counts instead of ratios, the results were within an order of magnitude. This implies that the use of PMA-qPCR is appropriate only for a qualitative analysis to monitor the success of a process such as disinfection. Furthermore, we were able to assess that both methods have advantages and disadvantages: LIVE/DEAD flow cytometry as applied in this study works well on some bacteria monocultures, but does not distinguish between bacteria species. The PMA-qPCR method allows the possibility of distinguishing between membrane intact cells and membrane compromised cells and can be used to screen for specific bacteria.