Functional diagnostics for thyrotropin hormone receptor autoantibodies: bioassays prevail over binding assays

Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2018 Jun 1;23(11):2028-2043. doi: 10.2741/4687.


Autoantibodies to the thyrotropin hormone receptor (TSH-R) are directly responsible for the hyperthyroidism in Graves' disease and mediate orbital manifestations in Graves' orbitopathy (otherwise known as thyroid eye disease). These autoantibodies are heterogeneous in their function and collectively referred to as TRAbs. Measurement of TRAbs is clinically important for diagnosis of a variety of conditions and different commercial assays with high sensitivity and specificity are available for diagnostic purposes. This review provides overwhelming evidence that the TRAbs detected in binding assays by mainly the automated electrochemical luminescence immunoassays (ECLIA) do not distinguish TRAbs that stimulate the TSH-R (called TSIs or TSAbs) and TRAbs that just inhibit the binding of TSH without stimulating the TSH-R (called TBAbs). However, TSAbs and TBAbs have divergent pathogenic roles, and depending which fraction predominates cause different clinical symptoms and engender different therapeutic regimen. Therefore, diagnostic distinction of TSAbs and TBAbs is of paramount clinical importance. To date, only bioassays such as the Mc4 TSH-R bioassay (ThyretainTM, Quidel) and the Bridge assay (Immulite 2000, Siemens) can measure TSAbs, with only the former being able to distinguish between TSAbs and TBAbs. On this note, it is strongly recommended to only use the term TSI or TSAb when reporting the results of bioassays, whereas the results of automated TRAb binding assays should be reported as TRAbs (of undetermined functional significance). This review aims to present a technical and analytical account of leading commercial diagnostic methods of anti-TSH-R antibodies, a metaanalysis of their clinical performance and a perspective for the use of cell based TSH-R bioassays in the clinical diagnostics of Graves' disease.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies / analysis*
  • Autoantibodies / immunology
  • Biological Assay / methods*
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Graves Disease / diagnosis
  • Graves Disease / immunology*
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / diagnosis
  • Graves Ophthalmopathy / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin / immunology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Autoantibodies
  • Biomarkers
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin