Background: Previous studies have shown that albumin in stored urine samples degrades over time, and that albumin losses are greatest in samples with low pH conditions (pH < 5). Furthermore, the high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) assay for urinary albumin has been shown to be particularly susceptible to the effects of prolonged storage.
Methods: Frozen urine samples, stored for 12 months at -70 and -20 degrees C, were analysed for albumin fragmentation. Urinary protease activity was investigated in vitro in urine adjusted to pH 2.3-2.5. Albumin was measured by nephelometry, HPLC and sodium dodecyl sulphate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis.
Results: In the unadjusted samples, albumin was degraded in 11 out of 40 samples stored at -20 degrees C. In the in vitro experiments, both endogenous albumin and exogenous albumin added to urine were rapidly degraded into large fragments within minutes after adjustment to low pH. The fragments produced were consistent with those produced during digestion with pepsin and urinary degradation was completely inhibited by pepstatin. Albumin concentration measured by HPLC was most dramatically affected, with near-complete loss of albumin-sized material within one hour of incubation at pH 2.3-2.5. Sample reactivity with antiserum in a nephelometry assay initially declined then increased, possibly due to exposure of internal epitopes during albumin digestion.
Conclusions: This study demonstrated that proteases are present and active in stored human urine samples. Urinary albumin digestion occurred in a manner consistent with activity of endogenous urinary proteases. Adjustment to neutral pH or addition of protease inhibitors may be useful techniques for sample preservation.