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Slight specific staining with the antibody was observed in isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes.

Would this isolated always evoke the meaning "happening or existing only once, separate", as in

There were only a few isolated cases of violent behaviour.

or might it half-imply that "someone has isolated these lymphocytes from tissue", and thus the term is better avoided in this sentence for clarity's sake?

What would be good alternatives? I can think of "individual" and "single".

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  • It just means that the (by implication, relatively small number of) stained lymphocytes weren't clustered. It would obviously be significant if only 1% of all lymphocytes stained, but these were all concentrated in one specific organ, for example. You probably shouldn't mess with the orioginal phrasing, which is quite precise. Aug 6 '16 at 17:54
  • @FumbleFingers - this is a translation from Russian, and I'm trying to decide whether the word "isolated" was precise here, or whether "individual" would have been better. The original adjective is "yedinichny", meaning literally "single". "Isolated" sounds nice to me, but I decided to check. Aug 6 '16 at 18:05
  • I would understand it to mean "not widespread", rather than a passive synonymous with "extracted and sequestered". But here is an example of the latter: nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/… The collocation for the latter is "isolated from" ... lymphocytes isolated from ... Aug 6 '16 at 19:36
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    @CowperKettle: Actually, having just searched Google Books for in isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes it seems to me you might be dealing with a context-specific usage here. I think the default "natural" meaning would indeed be [a small number,] not physically connected to each other, but without spending too long looking at those examples I get the impression that for this particular sequence of words it might mean taken away from their normal environment (exact context might clarify). Aug 6 '16 at 20:06
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I would interpret this sentence as meaning "isolated ... from tissue." However, I am not a physician or biologist and I can't say whether one would interpret it differently. What I can do is quote a number of publications that use that phrase:

Apoptogenic effect of fentanyl on freshly isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes.

In this case, the use of freshly tells us that it does not mean "isolated cases."

In this study, we used in vitro isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes as biosensors to test the effect of hypobaric hypoxia on seven climbers by measuring the functional activity of these cells.

Peripheral blood lymphocytes: a model for monitoring physiological adaptation to high altitude.

Since "in vitro" means "outside a living organism," we can also safely assume that this usage does not mean "isolated cases."

Thirteen patients with SLE with active disease, 10 patients with inactive disease, and 14 controls entered the study. In addition, samples from 10 of the 13 patients with active disease could be studied at a moment of inactive disease as well. Isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes were stained for the lymphocyte subset markers CD4, CD8, CD19, their respective activation markers CD25, HLA-DR, CD38, and the costimulatory molecules CD40L, CD28, CD40, CD80, and CD86. Expression was measured by flow cytometry.

Expression of costimulatory molecules on peripheral blood lymphocytes of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus

Again, this usage cannot refer to "isolated cases." This time because it's being used as an adjective to modify "peripheral blood lymphocytes."

These were the first three results when searching for the phrase"isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes," so I think it is safe to conclude that that phrase will only ever be interpreted to mean "isolated ... from tissue."


If you wish to express that staining was observed in only some of the lymphocytes, you might want to reword the sentence as:

Slight specific staining with the antibody was observed in a small number of peripheral blood lymphocytes.

If your intention was to say that slight staining was observed in those lymphocytes not clustered together, you might say:

Slight specific staining with the antibody was observed in discrete peripheral blood lymphocytes.

The definition of discrete from Oxford Dictionaries:

discrete
Individually separate and distinct:
"That is, does age affect general ability or does it have discrete effects on individual abilities?"

Be careful not to confuse discrete and discreet.

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Actually, having just searched Google Books for in isolated peripheral blood lymphocytes it seems to me you might be dealing with a context-specific usage here. I think the default "natural" meaning would indeed be [a small number,] not physically connected to each other, but without spending too long looking at those examples I get the impression that for this particular sequence of words it might mean taken away from their normal environment (exact context might clarify).

From FF comment under the answer.

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