Cell Counting and Viability Assessment of 2D and 3D Cell Cultures: Expected Reliability of the Trypan Blue Assay

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Background: Whatever the target of an experiment in cell biology, cell counting and viability assessment are always computed. The Trypan Blue (TB) assay was proposed about a century ago and is still the most widely used method to perform cell viability analysis. Furthermore, the combined use of TB with a haemocytometer is also considered the standard approach to estimate cell population density. There are numerous research articles reporting the use of TB assays to compute cell number and viability of 2D and 3D cultures. However, the literature still lacks studies regarding the reliability of the TB assay in terms of assessment of its repeatability and reproducibility. Methods: We compared the TB assay's measurements obtained by two biologists who analysed 105 different samples in double-blind for a total of 210 counts performed. We measured: (a) the repeatability of the count performed by the same operator; (b) the reproducibility of counts performed by the two operators. Results: There were no significant differences in the results obtained with 2D and 3D cell cultures: we estimated an approximate variability of 5% when the TB assay was used to assess the viability of the culture, and a variability of around 20% when it was used to determine the cell population density. Conclusions: The main aim of this study was to make researchers aware of potential measurement errors when TB is used with a haemocytometer for counting and viability measurements in 2D and 3D cultures. We believe that these results can help researchers to determine whether the expected reliability of the TB assay is compliant with their applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
JournalBiological Procedures Online
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 20 2017


  • Cell viability
  • Haemocytometer
  • Microscopy
  • Oncology
  • Statistical analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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