Comparison of frequency distributions in flow cytometry

Christopher Cox, Jay E. Reeder, Roy D. Robinson, Sarah B. Suppes, Leon L. Wheeless

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


A number of methods have previously been considered for the statistical comparison of flow cytometric frequency distributions. For two distributions, the foremost of these is the Kolmogorov‐Smirnov (K‐S) test, which has been criticized as “too sensitive.” We discuss some alternative methods based on the Poisson distribution. The assumption of Poisson variation within channels allows the use of channel‐by‐channel confidence intervals and chi‐square tests. These are simple and more appropriate for discrete data than the K‐S test. Graphical displays of these and other techniques are presented. We also attempt to set the problem in an appropriate context. We argue that any statistical procedure must rest on a reasonable understanding of the nature of the variability in the system. This understanding takes the form of an appropriate probability model, which may be approximate but must provide a reasonably accurate description of the data. Incomplete understanding of the data can lead to inappropriate analysis. We discuss the assumptions that underlie our techniques and consider extensions to more complex situations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-298
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1988
Externally publishedYes


  • Histogram comparison
  • Kolmogorov‐Smirnov test
  • Poisson variation
  • chisquare test
  • graphical presentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Biophysics
  • Hematology
  • Endocrinology
  • Cell Biology


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