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Multianalyte Microspot Immunoassay--microanalytical "compact Disk" Of The Future

R P Ekins, F W Chu

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Abstract Throughout the 1970s, controversy centered both on immunoassay "sensitivity" per se and on the relative sensitivities of labeled antibody (Ab) and labeled analyte methods. Our theoretical studies revealed that RIA sensitivities could be surpassed only by the use of very high-specificity nonisotopic labels in "noncompetitive" designs, preferably with monoclonal antibodies. The time-resolved fluorescence methodology known as DELFIA--developed in collaboration with LKB/Wallac--represented the first commercial "ultrasensitive" nonisotopic technique based on these theoretical insights, the same concepts being subsequently adopted in comparable methodologies relying on the use of chemiluminescent and enzyme labels. However, high-specific-activity labels also permit the development of "multianalyte" immunoassay systems combining ultrasensitivity with the simultaneous measurement of tens, hundreds, or thousands of analytes in a small biological sample. This possibility relies on simple, albeit hitherto-unexploited, physicochemical concepts. The first is that all immunoassays rely on the measurement of Ab occupancy by analyte. The second is that, provided the Ab concentration used is "vanishingly small," fractional Ab occupancy is independent of both Ab concentration and sample volume. This leads to the notion of "ratiometric" immunoassay, involving measurement of the ratio of signals (e.g., fluorescent signals) emitted by two labeled Abs, the first (a "sensor" Ab) deposited as a microspot on a solid support, the second (a "developing" Ab) directed against either occupied or unoccupied binding sites of the sensor Ab. Our preliminary studies of this approach have relied on a dual-channel scanning-laser confocal microscope, permitting microspots of area 100 microns 2 or less to be analyzed, and implying that an array of 10(6) Ab-containing microspots, each directed against a different analyte, could, in principle, be accommodated on an area of 1 cm2. Although measurement of such analyte numbers is unlikely ever to be required, the ability to analyze biological fluids for a wide spectrum of analystes is likely to transform immunodiagnostics in the next decade.