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Protein Electrophoresis & Immunofixation Electrophoresis Tests

Last updated May 9, 2018

A Protein Electrophoresis Test determines the fraction of different proteins present in blood or urine.


What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Protein Test
  • Immunoglobulin Electrophoresis Test
  • Urine Protein Electrophoresis Test

What is Protein Electrophoresis & Immunofixation Electrophoresis Tests? (Background Information)

  • Electrophoresis is a technique used to separate charged particles in a mixture. With protein electrophoresis (PFE), the particles are proteins and the mixture is blood or urine
  • The separation is accomplished by subjecting the mixture to an electric current and observing the effects of the force, experienced by the particles
  • Particles of differing molecular characteristics, such as size and shape, experience different electrical forces. Thus, they are propelled at different speeds through the medium. This means that, after a period of time, they end up at different locations
  • Conversely, identical particles are affected equally by an electric current. Thus, they travel the same distance in a given time and end up in the same place. This is observed as a set of “bands” during visualization
  • After being separated by electrophoresis, a mixture can be analyzed for the presence of a certain constituent. This is accomplished by a method known as immunofixation electrophoresis (IFE)
  • IFE consists of applying a fluorescent antibody against a constituent, directly to an electrophoresis gel. If the constituent is present, the antibody will stick to it and survive, without being washed away; the band then glows

PFE and IFE are related processes - a PFE is used to fractionate a mixture and an IFE is then performed, if the clinician is looking for a certain component, within the fractions.

  • The most abundant of proteins in blood are fibrinogens, albumins, and globulins. Globulins are further divided into alpha, beta 1, beta 2, and gamma. Albumins and the 4 types of globulins are of diagnostic importance
  • A Protein Electrophoresis Test determines the fraction of different proteins present in blood or urine. An Immunofixation Electrophoresis Test then, helps identify a specific protein in this fraction, which is of clinical interest to the healthcare provider

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Protein Electrophoresis & Immunofixation Electrophoresis Tests?

The following are clinical indicators for performing a Serum Protein Electrophoresis Test:

  • To supplement other lab tests, such as total protein and total blood cells, while investigating:
    • Autoimmune diseases
    • Kidney disorders
    • Liver disorders
    • Protein-losing syndromes
  • Suspected multiple myeloma, which is marked by:
    • Anemia
    • Bone pain
    • Easy fractures

The clinical indicator for performing a Urine Protein Electrophoresis Test is the presence of significant protein levels in blood.

The following are clinical indicators for performing a Cerebrospinal Protein Electrophoresis Test:

  • Suspected multiple sclerosis, which is marked by:
    • Difficulties in coordination and balance (ataxia)
    • Vision problems
    • Muscle spasms or intense weakness
  • Inflammation of the brain caused by infection (encephalitis), which is marked by:
    • Headaches
    • Vision problems

How is the Specimen Collected for Protein Electrophoresis & Immunofixation Electrophoresis Tests?

Sample required: Blood, urine, or cerebrospinal fluid

Process:

  • Insertion of a needle into an arm vein (blood)
  • Sample, such as urine, may be collected in clean, sterile containers
  • Cerebrospinal fluid sample is collected via a needle and syringe

Preparation required: None

What is the Significance of the Protein Electrophoresis & Immunofixation Electrophoresis Tests Result?

With regard to blood protein levels:

  • Decreased levels of certain proteins can indicate:
    • Malnutrition
    • Pregnancy
    • Kidney disease
    • Liver disease
    • Protein-losing syndromes
    • Destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis)
    • Cirrhosis
  • Increased levels of certain proteins can indicate:
    • Dehydration
    • Inflammation, especially chronic
    • Increased cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia)
    • Multiple myeloma
    • Recent immunization
    • Cancer of the lymph nodes (lymphoma)

With regard to urine protein fraction:

  • Increased levels of certain proteins can indicate:
    • Kidney disorder and inability to filter proteins out of blood
    • Infection
  • Decreased levels of urine proteins are rarely of any clinical concern

With regard to cerebrospinal fluid protein levels:

  • Increased levels of certain proteins can indicate:
    • Multiple sclerosis, especially of gamma globulins, which are absent in urine
    • Infection
    • Immune disorders, such as amyloidosis and Hodgkin’s Disease
    • HIV
    • Neurosyphilis

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • Certain factors may interfere with the test and these include: Chemotherapy, immunization (if not being tested), medications, such as aspirin and oral contraceptives. These influence blood protein proportions and alter electrophoresis results
  • Electrophoresis is also used in research labs, to separate protein and DNA in mixtures

The Protein Electrophoresis (PFE) Test is also known as:

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Protein Test
  • Immunoglobulin Electrophoresis Test
  • Serum Protein Electrophoresis Test
  • Urine Protein Electrophoresis Test

The Immunofixation Electrophoresis (IFE) Test is also known as:

  • Oligoclonal Banding (O-Banding) Test

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 12, 2014
Last updated: May 9, 2018