Paper accepted – funded by UCAN: “Cytokine assays: an assessment of the preparation and treatment of blood and tissue samples”

Cytokines are key components of the innate and adaptive immune system. As pivotal players in the progression or regression of a pathological process, these molecules provide a window through which diseases can be monitored and can thus act as biomarkers. In order to measure cytokine levels, a plethora of protocols can be applied. These methods include bioassays, protein microarrays, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), Meso Scale Discovery (MSD) electrochemiluminescence and bead based multiplex immunoassays (MIA). Due to the interaction and activity of cytokines, multiplex immunoassays are at the forefront of cytokine analysis by allowing multiple cytokines to be measured in parallel. However, even with optimized protocols, sample standardization needs to occur before these proteins can optimally act as biomarkers. This review describes various factors influencing the levels of cytokines measured in plasma, serum, dried blood spots and tissue biopsies, focusing on sample collection and handling, long term storage and the repetitive use of samples. By analyzing how each of these factors influences protein levels, it is concluded that samples should be stored at low temperatures in order to maintain cytokine stability. In addition, within a study, sample manipulations should be kept the same, with measurement protocols being chosen for their compatibility with the research in question. By having a clear understanding of what factors influence cytokine levels and how to overcome these technical issues, minimally confounded data can be obtained and cytokines can achieve optimal biomarker activity.

Genoveva C.E. Keustermans, Sanne B.E. Hoeks, Jenny Meerding, Berent J. Prakken, Wilco de Jager

Department of Pediatric Immunology (KC01.069.0), Centre for Molecular and Cellular Intervention, University Medical Centre Utrecht, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Article funded by UCAN