ELISA, Enzyme ImmunoAssay or EIA, 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 of the appropriate wavelength is shone upon the sample, any antigen/antibody complexes will fluoresce so that the amount of antigen in the sample can be inferred through the magnitude of the fluorescence.
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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 chromogenic substrates, though newer assays employ fluorogenic substrates enabling much higher sensitivity.
The ELISA test, or the enzyme immunoassay (EIA), was the first screening test commonly employed for HIV. It has a high sensitivity. In an ELISA test, a person's serum is diluted 400-fold and applied to a plate to which HIV antigens have been 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.
ELISA Demonstration Bookmark and Share  Subscribe in a reader Types The steps of the general, "indirect," ELISA for determining serum antibody concentrations are:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wash the plate, so that excess unbound enzyme-antibody conjugates are removed.
  • Apply a substrate which is converted by the enzyme to elicit a chromogenic or fluorogenic or electrochemical signal.
  • View/quantify the result using a spectrophotometer, spectrofluorometer, or other optical/electrochemical device.
Sandwich ELISA 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 primary antibodies that bind specifically to the antigen.
  • Apply enzyme-linked secondary antibodies which are specific to the primary antibodies.
  • 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 absorbance or fluorescence or electrochemical signal (e.g., current) of the plate wells to determine the presence and quantity of antigen.
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.
(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).
ELISA Reverse method & device (ELISA-R m&d)
A newer 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 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.

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