Single Cell Glucose Uptake Assays: A Cautionary Tale

Linda V. Sinclair (Lead / Corresponding author), Celine Barthelemy, Doreen A. Cantrell (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Assays to monitor the metabolic state or nutrient uptake capacity of immune cells at a single cell level are increasingly in demand. One assay, used by many immunologists, employs 2-(N-(7-Nitrobenz-2-oxa-1,3-diazol-4-yl)Amino)-2-Deoxyglucose (2-NBDG), a fluorescent analogue of 2-deoxyglucose (2DG), as a substrate for glucose transporters. This molecule has been validated as a substrate for the glucose transporter Glut2 (Slc2a2) in mammalian cells but 2-NDBG selectivity for the glucose transporters expressed by T cells, Glut1 (Slc2a1) and Glut3 (Slc2a3), has never been explored. Nor has the possibility that 2-NBDG might bind to T cells that do not express glucose transporters been assessed. In this technical commentary we interrogate the specificity of 2-NBBG labelling as a readout for glucose transport in T lymphocytes. We compare flow cytometric 2-NBDG staining against well validated radiolabelled glucose transport assays in murine T cells. Our data show there can be a large discordance between glucose transport capacity and 2-NBDG labelling in T cells. We also find that 2-NBDG uptake into murine T cells is not inhibited by competitive substrates or facilitative glucose transporter inhibitors, nor can 2-NBDG competitively block glucose uptake in T cells. Collectively, these data argue that 2-NBDG uptake alone is not a reliable tool for the assessment of cellular glucose transport capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere200029
Number of pages13
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2020


  • 2-NBDG
  • glucose uptake
  • T cells
  • T lymphocytes


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