The fundamental flaws of immunoassays and potential solutions using tandem mass spectrometry

J Immunol Methods. 2009 Aug 15;347(1-2):3-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jim.2009.06.003. Epub 2009 Jun 16.


Immunoassays have made it possible to measure dozens of individual proteins and other analytes in human samples for help in establishing the diagnosis and prognosis of disease. In too many cases the results of those measurements are misleading and can lead to unnecessary treatment or missed opportunities for therapeutic interventions. These cases stem from problems inherent to immunoassays performed with human samples, which include a lack of concordance across platforms, autoantibodies, anti-reagent antibodies, and the high-dose hook effect. Tandem mass spectrometry may represent a detection method capable of alleviating many of the flaws inherent to immunoassays. We review our understanding of the problems associated with immunoassays on human specimens and describe methodologies using tandem mass spectrometry that could solve some of those problems. We also provide a critical discussion of the potential pitfalls of novel mass spectrometric approaches in the clinical laboratory.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Heterophile / analysis
  • Artifacts*
  • Autoantibodies / analysis
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Humans
  • Immunoassay* / standards
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Quality Control
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry* / standards
  • Thyroglobulin / analysis


  • Antibodies, Heterophile
  • Autoantibodies
  • Biomarkers
  • Thyroglobulin