Biological and technical variables affecting immunoassay recovery of cytokines from human serum and simulated vaginal fluid: a multicenter study

Anal Chem. 2008 Jun 15;80(12):4741-51. doi: 10.1021/ac702628q. Epub 2008 May 17.


The increase of proinflammatory cytokines in vaginal secretions may serve as a surrogate marker of unwanted inflammatory reaction to microbicide products topically applied for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV-1. Interleukin (IL)-1beta and IL-6 have been proposed as indicators of inflammation and increased risk of HIV-1 transmission; however, the lack of information regarding detection platforms optimal for vaginal fluids and interlaboratory variation limit their use for microbicide evaluation and other clinical applications. This study examines fluid matrix variants relevant to vaginal sampling techniques and proposes a model for interlaboratory comparisons across current cytokine detection technologies. IL-1beta and IL-6 standards were measured by 12 laboratories in four countries, using 14 immunoassays and four detection platforms based on absorbance, chemiluminescence, electrochemiluminescence, and fluorescence. International reference preparations of cytokines with defined biological activity were spiked into (1) a defined medium simulating the composition of human vaginal fluid at pH 4.5 and 7.2, (2) physiologic salt solutions (phosphate-buffered saline and saline) commonly used for vaginal lavage sampling in clinical studies of cytokines, and (3) human blood serum. Assays were assessed for reproducibility, linearity, accuracy, and significantly detectable fold difference in cytokine level. Factors with significant impact on cytokine recovery were determined by Kruskal-Wallis analysis of variance with Dunn's multiple comparison test and multiple regression models. All assays showed acceptable intra-assay reproducibility; however, most were associated with significant interlaboratory variation. The smallest reliably detectable cytokine differences ( P < 0.05) derived from pooled interlaboratory data varied from 1.5- to 26-fold depending on assay, cytokine, and matrix type. IL-6 but not IL-1beta determinations were lower in both saline and phosphate-buffered saline as compared to vaginal fluid matrix, with no significant effect of pH. The (electro)chemiluminescence-based assays were most discriminative and consistently detected <2-fold differences within each matrix type. The Luminex-based assays were less discriminative with lower reproducibility between laboratories. These results suggest the need for uniform vaginal sampling techniques and a better understanding of immunoassay platform differences and cross-validation before the biological significance of cytokine variations can be validated in clinical trials. This investigation provides the first standardized analytic approach for assessing differences in mucosal cytokine levels and may improve strategies for monitoring immune responses at the vaginal mucosal interface.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Fluids / chemistry*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoassay / methods*
  • Interleukin-1beta / analysis*
  • Interleukin-1beta / blood*
  • Interleukin-6 / analysis*
  • Interleukin-6 / blood*
  • Reference Standards
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Vagina / metabolism*


  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Interleukin-6