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ELISA

Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay, or ELISA, is a biochemical technique used mainly in immunology to detect the presence of an antibody or an antigen in a sample. The ELISA has been used as a diagnostic tool in medicine and plant pathology, as well as a quality control check in various industries. In simple terms, in ELISA an unknown amount of antigen is affixed to a surface, and then a specific antibody is washed over the surface so that it can bind to the antigen. This antibody is linked to an enzyme, and in the final step a substance is added that the enzyme can convert to some detectable signal. Thus in the case of fluorescence ELISA, when light is shone upon the sample, any antigen/antibody complexes will fluoresce so that the amount of antigen in the sample can be measured.

Performing an ELISA involves at least one antibody with specificity for a particular antigen. The sample with an unknown amount of antigen is immobilized on a solid support (usually a polystyrene microtiter plate) either non-specifically (via adsorption to the surface) or specifically (via capture by another antibody specific to the same antigen, in a "sandwich" ELISA). After the antigen is immobilized the detection antibody is added, forming a complex with the antigen. The detection antibody can be covalently linked to an enzyme, or can itself be detected by a secondary antibody which is linked to an enzyme through bioconjugation. Between each step the plate is typically washed with a mild detergent solution to remove any proteins or antibodies that are not specifically bound. After the final wash step the plate is developed by adding an enzymatic substrate to produce a visible signal, which indicates the quantity of antigen in the sample. Older ELISAs utilize chromogenicsubstrates, though newer assays employ fluorogenic substrates with much higher sensitivity.

Enzyme ImmunoAssay (EIA) is a synonym for the ELISA.

"indirect" ELISA

The steps of the general, "indirect," ELISA for determining serum antibody concentrations are:

  1. Apply a sample of known antigen of known concentration to a surface, often the well of a microtiter plate. The antigen is fixed to the surface to render it immobile. Simple adsorption of the protein to the plastic surface is usually sufficient. These samples of known antigen concentrations will constitute a standard curve used to calculate antigen concentrations of unknown samples. Note that the antigen itself may be an antibody.

  2. The plate wells or other surface are then coated with serum samples of unknown antigen concentration, diluted into the same buffer used for the antigen standards. Since antigen immobilization in this step is due to non-specific adsorption, it is important for the total protein concentration to be similar to that of the antigen standards. 

  3. A concentrated solution of non-interacting protein, such as Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA) or casein, is added to all plate wells. This step is known as blocking, because the serum proteins block non-specific adsorption of other proteins to the plate. 

  4. The plate is washed, and a detection antibody specific to the antigen of interest is applied to all plate wells. This antibody will only bind to immobilized antigen on the well surface, not to other serum proteins or the blocking proteins. 

  5. The plate is washed to remove any unbound detection antibody. After this wash, only the antibody-antigen complexes remain attached to the well. 

  6. Secondary antibodies, which will bind to any remaining detection antibodies, are added to the wells. These secondary antibodies are conjugated to the substrate-specific enzyme. This step may be skipped if the detection antibody is conjugated to an enzyme. 

  7. Wash the plate, so that excess unbound enzyme-antibody conjugates are removed. 

  8. Apply a substrate which is converted by the enzyme to elicit a chromogenic or fluorogenic or electrochemical signal. 

  9. View/quantify the result using a spectrophotometer, spectrofluorometer, or other optical/electrochemical device. 

The enzyme acts as an amplifier; even if only few enzyme-linked antibodies remain 

The enzyme acts as an amplifier; even if only few enzyme-linked antibodies remain bound, the enzyme molecules will produce many signal molecules. A major disadvantage of the indirect ELISA is that the method of antigen immobilization is non-specific; any proteins in the sample will stick to the microtiter plate well, so small concentrations of analyte in serum must compete with other serum proteins when binding to the well surface. The sandwich ELISA provides a solution to this problem.

ELISA may be run in a qualitative or quantitative format. Qualitative results provide a simple positive or negative result for a sample. The cutoff between positive and negative is determined by the analyst and may be statistical. Two or three times the standard deviation is often used to distinguish positive and negative samples. In quantitative ELISA, the optical density or fluorescent units of the sample is interpolated into a standard curve, which is typically a serial dilution of the target.

Sandwich ELISA

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A sandwich ELISA. (1) Plate is coated with a capture antibody; (2) sample is added, and any antigen present binds to capture antibody; (3) detecting antibody is added, and binds to antigen; (4) enzyme-linked secondary antibody is added, and binds to detecting antibody; (5) substrate is added, and is converted by enzyme to detectable form.

A less-common variant of this technique, called "sandwich" ELISA, is used to detect sample antigen. The steps are as follows:

  1. Prepare a surface to which a known quantity of capture antibody is bound.
  2. Block any non specific binding sites on the surface.
  3. Apply the antigen-containing sample to the plate.
  4. Wash the plate, so that unbound antigen is removed.
  5. Apply primary antibodies that bind specifically to the antigen.
  6. Apply enzyme-linked secondary antibodies which are specific to the primary antibodies.
  7. Wash the plate, so that the unbound antibody-enzyme conjugates are removed.
  8. Apply a chemical which is converted by the enzyme into a color or fluorescent or electrochemical signal.
  9. Measure the absorbance or fluorescence or electrochemical signal (e.g., current) of the plate wells to determine the presence and quantity of antigen.

The use of a secondary antibody conjugated to an enzyme is a convenient format for detection. It avoids the expensive process of creating enzyme-linked antibodies for every antigen one might want to detect. By using an enzyme-linked antibody that binds the Fc region of other antibodies, this same enzyme-linked antibody can be used in a variety of situations. The major advantage of a sandwich ELISA is the ability to use crude or impure samples and still selectively bind any antigen that may be present. Without the first layer of "capture" antibody, any proteins in the sample (including serum proteins) may competitively adsorb to the plate surface, lowering the quantity of antigen immobilized.

Competitive ELISA

A third use of ELISA is through competitive binding. The steps for this ELISA are somewhat different than the first two examples:

  1. Unlabeled antibody is incubated in the presence of its antigen.
  2. These bound antibody/antigen complexes are then added to an antigen coated well.
  3. The plate is washed, so that unbound antibody is removed. (The more antigen in the sample, the less antibody will be able to bind to the antigen in the well, hence "competition.")
  4. The secondary antibody, specific to the primary antibody is added. This second antibody is coupled to the enzyme.
  5. A substrate is added, and remaining enzymes elicit a chromogenic or fluorescent signal.

For competitive ELISA, the higher the original antigen concentration, the weaker the eventual signal.

(Note that some competitive ELISA kits include enzyme-linked antigen rather than enzyme-linked antibody. The labeled antigen competes for primary antibody binding sites with your sample antigen (unlabeled). The more antigen in the sample, the less labeled antigen is retained in the well and the weaker the signal.) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELISA ; copyleft applies to this section of our site: which signifies that you are free to reproduce the content contained within boxed sections, according to the terms of the Wikipedia foundation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_Free_Documentation_License).