Flow cytometry is a simple analytical technique used for the investigation of cells taken from various sources. Cells are identified by both their physical characteristics and the presence or absence of specific molecules on the cell surface. These molecules may be either phenotypic, or induced by a specific stimulus. Flow cytometry has been used to identify the nature and extent of the immune response in several occupational respiratory conditions including occupational asthma, irritant induced respiratory problems, and asbestos related lung disease. Also, it may be of value in monitoring workplace exposure to some hazardous materials. Although of limited diagnostic value at present, the technique has provided an insight into the modulation of immune cells, and their function, in people exposed to hazardous materials in the workplace. In this review, the principals of flow cytometry will be explored and the use of flow cytometry to investigate occupational respiratory disease will be discussed.
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