Background: Flowcytometric analysis of lymphocytes and their subpopulations in bronchoalveolar lavages (BAL) can support the diagnosis of interstitial lung diseases. This analysis should be done within 4 hr after lavage due to rapid cell deterioration. We tested three methods in order to stabilize for at least 28 days the BAL cell populations to allow delayed flowcytometric analysis in order to facilitate external quality assurance (EQA). Methods: We compared an in-house, dual-step stabilization method for BAL cells with results of two different commercial available stabilization reagents: TransFix® and Streck Cell Preservative™. All three methods were compared with native BAL cells as reference. BAL samples from six patients were tested on six occasions following stabilization from 1 to 28 days by flow cytometry. Results: Following stabilization and storage at 4°C, BAL cell suspensions had stable light scatter patterns and lymphocyte subsets. As expected, rapid deterioration of cells was seen with native BAL cells. The stabilized lavages showed more stable counts of WBC and lymphocyte populations with only minor differences found between the three methods. Conclusions: If analysis of the BAL cells is performed more than 24 hr after the lavage, stabilized BAL cells are superior to native cells. The in-house method can be used for EQA purposes with stability for at least 28 days. The TransFix and Streck methods might be useful for postponed diagnostic analysis of lavage cells but did not meet our 28 days criterion defined needed for EQA purposes.
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