Flow cytometric characterization of peripheral blood leukocyte populations of 3 neotropical snake species:Boa constrictor, Bothrops jararaca, andCrotalus durissus

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The reptilian immune system is represented by innate, humoral, and cell-mediated mechanisms, involving different types of blood leukocytes. The development of optimized methods for the advanced study of origin and function of reptilian blood leukocytes is needed.


The purpose of the study was to optimize leukocyte density gradient isolation protocols from snake peripheral blood samples, and characterize recovered cells by flow cytometry based on size and internal complexity for a qualitative and semi-quantitative assessment of leukocyte populations in one boa (Boa constrictor), and 2 viper species (Bothrops jararaca, Crotalus durissus).


Blood samples from 30 snakes (10 from each species, 5 males and 5 females) were collected in tubes with sodium heparin. Fresh blood was centrifuged with either ficoll-paque PLUS or percoll density gradients for leukocyte isolation. Flow cytometric leukocyte gates were defined based on size (forward scatter [FSC]) and internal complexity (side scatter [SSC]). Relative leukocyte differential counts after sorting the cells in these gates in one snake for each species were compared to conventional light microscopic differential counts on unsorted isolated leukocytes.


There was no statistical difference in the relative leukocyte populations, including heterophils, azurophils, and small and large lymphocytes between samples isolated by ficoll or percoll. Four leukocyte gates were identified based on their location in FSC/SSC cytograms. The relative leukocyte differential counts after sorting in single animals showed some agreement with the light microscopy differential count on unsorted cells.


Based on FSC and SSC, 4 distinct leukocyte populations were found in ficoll or percoll density gradient isolated leukocytes from peripheral blood from boa and viper species. Further optimization of the technique should allow the performance of functional assays.

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