Automated Image Analysis for Determination of Antibody Titers Against Occupational Bacterial Antigens Using Indirect Immunofluorescence

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Employees who are exposed to high concentrations of microorganisms in bioaerosols frequently suffer from respiratory disorders. However, etiology and in particular potential roles of microorganisms in pathogenesis still need to be elucidated. Thus, determination of employees’ antibody titers against specific occupational microbial antigens may lead to identification of potentially harmful species. Since indirect immunofluorescence (IIF) is easy to implement, we used this technique to analyze immunoreactions in human sera. In order to address disadvantageous inter-observer variations as well as the absence of quantifiable fluorescence data in conventional titer determination by eye, we specifically developed a software tool for automated image analysis. The ‘Fluorolyzer’ software is able to reliably quantify fluorescence intensities of antibody-bound bacterial cells on digital images. Subsequently, fluorescence values of single cells have been used to calculate non-discrete IgG titers. We tested this approach on multiple bacterial workplace isolates and determined titers in sera from 20 volunteers. Furthermore, we compared image-based results with the conventional manual readout and found significant correlation as well as statistically confirmed reproducibility. In conclusion, we successfully employed ‘Fluorolyzer’ for determination of titers against various bacterial species and demonstrated its applicability as a useful tool for reliable and efficient analysis of immune response toward occupational exposure to bioaerosols.

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