The immune system is composed of a variety of cell types each with unique roles and functions. These different cell types can be identified by a unique signature of cell-surface proteins called CD (cluster of differentiation) markers. Well known examples of CD markers are CD4 and CD8, which are used to identify T lymphocytes involved in regulating the adaptive immune response. CD markers for flow cytometry are used in many applications, including immunophenotyping (see below).

The CD nomenclature has been developed and maintained by the HLDA (Human Leukocyte Differentiation Antigens) workshop. This initiative, starting in 1982, originally aimed to classify the monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) raised against cell surface molecules of leukocytes being generated by laboratories worldwide. The proposed marker is assigned a CD number once two specific mAbs have been shown to bind to it. Markers that are not sufficiently characterized are labeled with a provisional “w” (as in “CDw145”).

There are now over 370 CD unique clusters and subclusters described in humans, including cell types other than leukocytes. CD antibodies are used widely for studying cell structure, function and distribution in research, differential diagnosis, and monitoring and treatment of disease (Table 1).

Examples of CD Markers

Marker Cell Type
CD2, CD3, CD4, CD5, CD7, CD8 T cells
CD10 Early pre-B cells (immature B cells)
CD11c, CD25, CD103, CD123 Hairy cell leukemia cells
CD13, CD33, CD117 Myeloid cells
CD14, CD64 Monocytic cells (positive in AML-M4 and AML-M5)
CD15 Reed-Sternberg cells, neutrophils
CD16, CD56 Natural killer cells
CD19, CD20, CD21, CD22 B cells
CD23 and CD5 Chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma
CD31 Endothelial cells (positive in angiosarcoma), megakaryocytes and platelets
CD33 Myeloid cells and precursors
CD34 Stem cells (also positive in angiosarcoma)
CD41, CD61 Megakaryocytes and platelets (positive in AML-M7)
CD45 All leukocytes (except Reed-Sternberg cells)
CD45 RO Memory T cells
CD45 RA Naive T cells
CD56 Natural Killer (NK) cells
CD79b B cells, plasma cells, and lymphoproliferative disorders
CD200 A useful marker to differentiate between CLL (positive) and MCL (negative)

Table 1.

See a full list of CD markers for flow cytometry

Applications for CD markers


Immunophenotyping is a powerful tool that uses flow cytometry to gain insight into the composition and dynamics of cell populations in an immune response. The technique involves identifying cell types in heterogeneous cell populations by using different fluorescently-tagged antibodies that target various CD markers. Different combinations of antibodies can be used to identify different groups and sub-groups of cells. For example, CD3 can be used as a general marker for T cells followed by other CD markers to identify regulatory T cells (CD4 and CD25), T helper cells (CD4), and cytotoxic T cells (CD8). Immunophenotyping can be used for discovery and can also be applied in clinical settings, for example to help diagnose and classify a leukemia or lymphoma, or refine the analysis of cancer cell lines by determining the presence or absence of cancer cell markers that correlate with different degrees of severity. 

Immunophenotyping data image

Figure 1. Human peripheral blood leukocytes, stained with CD3-FITC (Clone UCHT-1) and CD5-PE (Clone UCHT-2). Double positive cells in the upper right quadrant represent 27.6% of the cell population, while 67.6% were negative for both CD5 and CD3 (lower left quadrant).


Many of the antigens used in immunohistochemistry (IHC) are CD markers. For example, CD15 and CD30 can be used to identify Hodgkin’s disease, while CD20 and CD3 can be used to differentiate between B-cell lymphomas and T-cell lymphomas, respectively.

Figure 2. Classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma with RS cells positive to CD30 (Golgi-stain) CD15 (membrane) and negative to CD45 in RS cells and positive in reactive background.

Ramos, Patricia & Díaz-Sámano, Fernanda & Quiñonez Urrego, Enoe. (2016). Archives of Hematology Case Reports and Reviews Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma and Classical Hodgkin´S Lymphoma Converge in an Unusual Presentation as a Gastric Composite Lymphoma: Case Report. Archives of Hematology Case reports and Reviews. 1. 001-002. 10.17352/ahcrr.000001.

Spatial Phenotyping

Spatially resolved, highly multiplexed biomarker analysis (spatial phenotyping) is being used to analyze the interactions between neighboring cells or groups of cells that are key to important biological processes. This analysis of context frequently involves the use of CD markers — for example, determining the difference between a CD4 T cell in breast cancer tissue surrounded by CD8 T cells to a CD4 T cell surrounded by luminal epithelial cells.

Figure 3. Sample image for spatial phenotyping of renal cell carcinoma tissue stained for 7 different markers including Ki67, CD8, CD4, Podo, SMA, CD20, and CD31.

CD markers from Leinco Technologies

Leinco Technologies provides labeled antibodies for a wide range of human and mouse CD markers for flow cytometry: