Human endothelial cell-based assay for endotoxin as sensitive as the conventional Limulus Amebocyte Lysate assay

Ronald E. Unger, Kirsten Peters, Anne Sartoris, Christian Freese, C. James Kirkpatrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Endotoxin, also known as lipopolysaccharide (LPS) produced by bacteria can be present in any liquid or on any biomaterial even if the material is sterile. Endotoxin in mammals can cause fever, inflammation, cell and tissue damage and irreversible septic shock and death. In the body, endothelial cells making up the blood vasculature and endothelial cells in vitro rapidly react to minute amounts of endotoxin resulting in a rapid induction of the cell adhesion molecule E-selectin. In this study we have used immunofluorescent staining to evaluate the expression of E-selectin on human microvascular endothelial cells from the skin (HDMEC) and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) exposed to various concentrations of LPS. In addition, the sensitivity of detection was compared with the most widely used assay for the presence of endotoxin, the Limulus Amebocyte Lysate assay (LAL). The detection of E-selectin on endothelial cells in the presence of LPS for 4 h was found to be at least as sensitive in detecting the same concentration using the LAL assay. A cell adhesion molecule-enzyme immunosorbent assay was also developed and used to quantify LPS using the endothelial cell model. A comparison of LAL and the immunofluorescent staining method was carried out with solutions, nanoparticles, biomaterial extracts and endothelial cells grown directly on biomaterials. Under all conditions, the endothelial/E-selectin model system was positive for the test samples that were positive by LAL. Thus, we propose the use of this highly sensitive, rapid, reproducible assay for the routine testing of endotoxin in all steps in the manufacturing process of materials destined for use in humans. This can give a rapid feedback and localization of bacterial contamination sources with the LAL being reserved for the testing of the final product.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3180-3187
Number of pages8
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work has been supported by the European Commission, FP6 project ‘NanoBioPharmaceutics’ (NMP4-CT-2006-026723).


  • Endothelial
  • Endotoxin
  • Limulus amebocyte assay
  • Lipopolysaccharide


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