Despite intense interest, methods that provide enhanced sensitivity and specificity in parallel measurements of candidate protein biomarkers in numerous samples have been lacking. We present herein a multiplex proximity ligation assay with readout via realtime PCR or DNA sequencing (ProteinSeq). We demonstrate improved sensitivity over conventional sandwich assays for simultaneous analysis of sets of 35 proteins in 5 µl of blood plasma. Importantly, we observe a minimal tendency to increased background with multiplexing, compared to a sandwich assay, suggesting that higher levels of multiplexing are possible. We used ProteinSeq to analyze proteins in plasma samples from cardiovascular disease (CVD) patient cohorts and matched controls. Three proteins, namely P-selectin, Cystatin-B and Kallikrein-6, were identified as putative diagnostic biomarkers for CVD. The latter two have not been previously reported in the literature and their potential roles must be validated in larger patient cohorts. We conclude that ProteinSeq is promising for screening large numbers of proteins and samples while the technology can provide a much-needed platform for validation of diagnostic markers in biobank samples and in clinical use.
Detection of proteins released in the bloodstream from tissues damaged by disease can promote early detection of pathological conditions, differential diagnostics, and follow-up of therapy. Despite these prospects and a plethora of candidate biomarkers, efforts in recent years to establish new protein diagnostic assays have met with limited success. One important limiting factor has been the challenge of detecting proteins present at trace levels in complex bodily fluids. To achieve robust, sensitive, and specific detection, we have developed a microparticle-based solid-phase proximity ligation assay, dependent on simultaneous recognition of target proteins by three antibody molecules for added specificity. After capture on a microparticle, solid-phase pairs of proximity probes are added followed by washes, enabling detection and identification of rare protein molecules in blood while consuming small amounts of sample. We demonstrate that single polyclonal antibody preparations raised against target proteins of interest can be readily used to establish assays where detection depends on target recognition by three individual antibody molecules, recognizing separate epitopes. The assay was compared with state-of-the-art sandwich ELISAs for detection of vascular endothelial growth factor, interleukin-8 and interleukin-6, and it was found to be superior both with regard to dynamic range and minimal numbers of molecules detected. Furthermore, the assays exhibited excellent performance in undiluted plasma and serum as well as in whole blood, producing comparable results for nine different antigens. We thus show that solid-phase proximity ligation assay is suitable for validation of a variety of protein biomarkers over broad dynamic ranges in clinical samples.
Despite great interest, investments, and efforts, the ongoing search for plasma protein biomarkers for disease so far has come up surprisingly empty-handed. Although discovery programs have revealed large numbers of biomarker candidates, the clinical utility has been validated for only a very small number of these. While this disappointing state of affairs may suggest that plasma protein biomarkers have little more to offer for diagnostics, we take the perspective that experimental conditions might not have been optimal and that analyses will be required that offer far greater sensitivity than currently available, in terms of numbers of molecules needed for unambiguous detection. Accordingly, techniques are needed to search deep and wide for protein biomarker candidates. The requirements and feasibility of such assays will be discussed.
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