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Rheumatology Diagnostics: Indirect Immunofluorescence Tests (IIF assays) on HEp-2 Cells

Immunofluorescence patterns help eliminate “false positives” in diagnosing autoimmune rheumatic diseases

The detection of anti-nuclear antibodies, the ANA test, is a clear (laboratory-) diagnostic indicator of rheumatic autoimmune disease. One of the standard laboratory tests for the detection of these antinuclear antibodies is IIF, the indirect immunofluorescence assay, on human HEp-2 cells (ANA-HEp-2 test).

This pictures shows anti-RNP pattern on HEp-2 cells after ANA-HEp-2 indirect immunofluorescence assay

ANA-HEp-2 indirect immunofluorescence test (IIF): antibodies against RNP (ribonucleoproteins) – interphase nucleoli: coarse granular positive, nucleoli neglected; mitotic cells: negative (400x) – © ORGENTEC Diagnostika, Mainz

However, for up to 13% of healthy individuals, indirect immunofluorescence may detect anti-nuclear antibodies. Most of these healthy people will not develop an autoimmune disease – despite the positive ANA test. It is thus a challenge for the physician to differentiate these healthy, false-positive patients from those ANA-positive patients who already have an inflammatory rheumatic disease or who truly have an increased risk of developing such an autoimmune disease.

 

Several very specific IIF patterns

In a large study, Brazilian IIF experts have now worked out the fundamental differences between the ANA-HEp-2 test results on serum samples from healthy individuals and the immunofluorescence patterns from serum samples of patients with rheumatic disease; they have described various IIF patterns that can be used to differentiate between the two patient groups (Mariz et al. 2011). This study was published a few weeks ago in the January issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, the journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). In their article, the scientists from the Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brazil, explain in detail that there are several very specific immunofluorescence patterns in the ANA-HEp-2 assay with which the autoimmune rheumatic diseases (ARD) are truly associated. (more…)

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