Characteristics to consider when selecting a positive control material for an in vitro assay

ALTEX. 2021;38(2):365-376. doi: 10.14573/altex.2102111. Epub 2021 Feb 24.


The use of in vitro assays to inform decision-making requires robust and reproducible results across studies, laboratories, and time. Experiments using positive control materials are an integral component of an assay procedure to demonstrate the extent to which the measurement system is performing as expected. This paper reviews ten characteristics that should be considered when selecting a positive control material for an in vitro assay: 1) the biological mechanism of action, 2) ease of preparation, 3) chemical purity, 4) verifiable physical properties, 5) stability, 6) ability to generate responses spanning the dynamic range of the assay, 7) technical or biological interference, 8) commercial availability, 9) user toxicity, and 10) disposability. Examples and a case study of the monocyte activation test are provided to demonstrate the application of these characteristics for identification and selection of potential positive control materials. Because specific positive control materials are often written into testing standards for in vitro assays, selection of the positive control material based on these characteristics can aid in ensuring the long-term relevance and usability of these standards.

Keywords: BenchMarks; alternatives to animal experiments; assay design; positive control material; pyrogenicity.

Publication types

  • Editorial

MeSH terms

  • Biological Assay*
  • Laboratories
  • Research Design*