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ELISA results using S-OIV A neuraminidase antibody at 1 g/ml to probe the immunogenic and the corresponding seasonal influenza A neuraminidase peptides at 50, 10, 2 and 0 ng/ml.

Because the ELISA can be performed to evaluate either the presence of antigen or the presence of antibody in a sample, it is a useful tool for determining serum antibody concentrations (such as with the HIV test or West Nile Virus). It has also found applications in the food industry in detecting potential food allergens such as milk, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, and eggs. ELISA can also be used in toxicology as a rapid presumptive screen for certain classes of drugs.

The ELISA, or the enzyme immunoassay (EIA), was the first screening test widely used for HIV because of its high sensitivity. In an ELISA, a person's serum is diluted 400-fold and applied to a plate to which HIV antigens are attached. If antibodies to HIV are present in the serum, they may bind to these HIV antigens. The plate is then washed to remove all other components of the serum. A specially prepared "secondary antibody" an antibody that binds to other antibodies is then applied to the plate, followed by another wash. This secondary antibody is chemically linked in advance to an enzyme. Thus, the plate will contain enzyme in proportion to the amount of secondary antibody bound to the plate. A substrate for the enzyme is applied, and catalysis by the enzyme leads to a change in color or fluorescence. ELISA results are reported as a number; the most controversial aspect of this test is determining the "cut-off" point between a positive and negative result.

A cut-off point may be determined by comparing it with a known standard. If an ELISA test is used for drug screening at workplace, a cut-off concentration, 50 ng/mL, for example, is established, and a sample will be prepared which contains the standard concentration of analyte. Unknowns that generate a signal that is stronger than the known sample are "positive". Those that generate weaker signal are "negative."

ELISA can also be used to determine the level of antibodies in faecal content...specifically the direct method


Before the development of the EIA/ELISA, the only option for conducting an immunoassay was radioimmunoassay, a technique using radioactively-labeled antigens or antibodies. In radioimmunoassay, the radioactivity provides the signal which indicates whether a specific antigen or antibody is present in the sample. Radioimmunoassay was first described in a paper by Rosalyn Sussman Yalow and Solomon Berson published in 1960.

Because radioactivity poses a potential health threat, a safer alternative was sought. A suitable alternative to radioimmunoassay would substitute a non-radioactive signal in place of the radioactive signal. When enzymes (such as peroxidase) react with appropriate substrates (such as ABTS or 3,3,5,5-Tetramethylbenzidine), this causes a change in color, which is used as a signal. However, the signal has to be associated with the presence of antibody or antigen, which is why the enzyme has to be linked to an appropriate antibody. This linking process was independently developed by Stratis Avrameas and G.B. Pierce. Since it is necessary to remove any unbound antibody or antigen by washing, the antibody or antigen has to be fixed to the surface of the container, i.e. the immunosorbent has to be prepared. A technique to accomplish this was published by Wide and Jerker Porath in 1966.

In 1971, Peter Perlmann and Eva Engvall at Stockholm University in Sweden, and Anton Schuurs and Bauke van Weemen in The Netherlands, independently published papers which synthesized this knowledge into methods to perform EIA/ELISA.


"Indirect" ELISA

The steps of "indirect" ELISA follows the mechanism below:

The antigen to be tested for is added to each well of a microtiter plate, where charges for many different conformations of proteins are present.

A solution of non-reacting protein, such as bovine serum albumin, or casein is added to block any additional charges that did not attract the protein of interest.

Then the serum is added, which contains antibodies of unknown concentration specific for the antigen added originally.

Afterwards, a secondary antibody is added, which is specific for all antibodies from the species of the antibodies added originally. This secondary antibody often has an enzyme attached to it, which has no effect on the bonding properties of the molecule.

A substrate for this enzyme is then added. Often, this substrate changes color upon reaction with the enzyme.

The higher the concentration of the enzyme that was present in the serum, the stronger the color change. Often a spectrometer is used to give quantitative values for color strength.

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

A sandwich ELISA. (1) Plate is coated with a capture antibody; (2) sample is added, and any antigen present binds to capture antibody; (3) enzyme linked capture antibody used as detecting antibody is added, and binds to antigen; (4) 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:

Prepare a surface to which a known quantity of capture antibody is bound.

Block any non specific binding sites on the surface.

Apply the antigen-containing sample to the plate.

Wash the plate, so that unbound antigen is removed.

Apply enzyme linked primary antibodies as detection antibodies which also bind specifically to the antigen.

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

Apply a chemical which is converted by the enzyme into a color or fluorescent or electrochemical signal.

Measure the absorbency or fluorescence or electrochemical signal (e.g., current) of the plate wells to determine the presence and quantity of antigen.

The image to the right includes the use of a secondary antibody conjugated to an enzyme, though technically this is not necessary if the primary antibody is conjugated to an enzyme. However, use of a secondary-antibody conjugate 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. 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..

A descriptive animation of the application of sandwich ELISA to home pregnancy testing can be found here.

Competitive ELISA

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

Unlabeled antibody is incubated in the presence of its antigen.

These bound antibody/antigen complexes are then added to an antigen coated well.

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.")

The secondary antibody, specific to the primary antibody is added. This second antibody is coupled to the enzyme.

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. The major advantage of a competitive ELISA is the ability to use crude or impure samples and still selectively bind any antigen that may be present.

(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).

Reverse ELISA

A new technique uses a solid phase made up of an immunosorbent polystyrene rod with 4-12 protruding ogives. The entire device is immersed in a test tube containing the collected sample and the following steps (washing, incubation in conjugate and incubation in chromogenous) are carried out by dipping the ogives in microwells of standard microplates pre-filled with reagents.

The advantages of this technique are as follows:

The ogives can each be sensitized to a different reagent, allowing the simultaneous detection of different antibodies and different antigens for multi-target assays;

The sample volume can be increased to improve the test sensitivity in clinical (saliva, urine), food (bulk milk, pooled eggs) and environmental (water) samples;

One ogive is left unsensitized to measure the non-specific reactions of the sample;

The use of laboratory supplies for dispensing sample aliquots, washing solution and reagents in microwells is not required, facilitating ready-to-use lab-kits and on-site kits.

See also


Eva Engvall




Secretion assay

Lateral flow test

Magnetic immunoassay


^ S. Leng, J. McElhaney, J. Walston, D. Xie, N. Fedarko, G. Kuchel (October 2008). "Elisa and Multiplex Technologies for Cytokine Measurement in Inflammation and Aging Research". J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 63: 879-884. PMID 18772478. 

^ M. Adler, S. Schulz, M. Spengler (2009) Cytokine Quantification in Drug Development: A comparison of sensitive immunoassay platforms . Chimera Biotech. (Report). Retrieved on 01/26/2010.

^ MedLinePlus. "HIV ELISA/western blot." U.S. National Library of Medicine. Last accessed April 16, 2007. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003538.htm

^ U. S. Food and Drug Administration. "Food Allergen Partnership." Last accessed April 16, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20080325193553/www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/alrgpart.html

^ YALOW R, BERSON S (1960). "Immunoassay of endogenous plasma insulin in man". J. Clin. Invest. 39: 115775. doi:10.1172/JCI104130. PMID 13846364. 

^ Lequin R (2005). "Enzyme immunoassay (EIA)/enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).". Clin. Chem. 51 (12): 24158. doi:10.1373/clinchem.2005.051532. PMID 16179424. 

^ Wide L, Porath J. Radioimmunoassay of proteins with the use of Sephadex-coupled antibodies. Biochem Biophys Acta 1966;30:257-260.

^ Engvall E, Perlman P (1971). "Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Quantitative assay of immunoglobulin G". Immunochemistry 8 (9): 8714. doi:10.1016/0019-2791(71)90454-X. PMID 5135623. 

^ Van Weemen BK, Schuurs AH (1971). "Immunoassay using antigen-enzyme conjugates.". FEBS Letters 15 (3): 2326. doi:10.1016/0014-5793(71)80319-8. PMID 11945853. .

External links

An animated illustration of an ELISA assay

The ELISA technique illustrated

An animated tutorial comparing the direct and indirect ELISA methods

ELISA Protocol

"Introduction to ELISA Activity - beginner walkthrough of ELISA used for detecting HIV, including animations at University of Arizona


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