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Definition of Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA): ELISA stands for "enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay." This is a rapid immunochemical test that involves an enzyme (a protein that catalyzes a biochemical reaction). It also involves an antibody or antigen (immunologic molecules).

ELISA tests are utilized to detect substances that have antigenic properties, primarily proteins (as opposed to small molecules and ions such as glucose and potassium). Some of these include hormones, bacterial antigens and antibodies.

There are variations of this test, but the most basic consists of an antibody attached to a solid surface. This antibody has affinity for (will latch on to) the substance of interest, for example, human chorionic gonadotropin (HGC), the commonly measured protein which indicates pregnancy. A mixture of purified HCG linked (coupled) to an enzyme and the test sample (blood, urine, etc) are added to the test system. If no HCG is present in the test sample, then only HCG with linked enzyme will bind. The more HCG which is present in the test sample, the less enzyme linked HCG will bind. The substance the enzyme acts on is then added, and the amount of product measured in some way, such as a change in color of the solution.

ELISA tests are generally highly sensitive and specific and compare favorably with radioimmune assay (RIA) tests. They have the added advantages of not needing radioisotopes or a radiation-counting apparatus.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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