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Protein Electrophoresis

Overview :

Proteins are major components of muscle, enzymes, hormones, hemoglobin, and other body tissues. Proteins are composed of elements that can be separated from one another by several different techniques: chemical methods, ultracentrifuge, or electrophoresis. There are two major types of electrophoresis: protein electrophoresis and immunoelectrophoresis. Immunoelectrophoresis is used to assess the blood levels of specific types of proteins called immunoglobulins. An immunoelectrophoresis test is usually ordered if a SPEP test has a "spike," or rise, at the immunoglobulin level. Protein electrophoresis is used to determine the total amount of protein in the blood, and to establish the levels of other types of proteins called albumin, alpha1 globulin, alpha2 globulin, and beta-globulin.

Blood proteins

ALBUMIN. Albumin is a protein that is made in the liver. It helps to retain elements like calcium, some hormones, and certain drugs in the circulation by binding to them to prevent their being filtered out by the kidneys. Albumin also acts to regulate the movement of water between the tissues and the bloodstream by attracting water to areas with higher concentrations of salts or proteins.

GLOBULINS. Globulins are another type of protein, larger in size than albumin. They are divided into three main groups: alpha, beta, and gamma.

  • Alphaglobulins. These proteins include alpha1 and alpha2 globulins. Alpha1 globulin is predominantly alpha1 antitrypsin, an enzyme produced by the lungs and liver. Alpha2 globulin, which includes serum haptoglobin, is a protein that binds hemoglobin to prevent its excretion by the kidneys. Various other alphaglobulins are produced as a result of inflammation, tissue damage, autoimmune disorders, or certain cancers.
  • Betaglobulins. These include low-density substances involved in fat transport (lipoproteins), iron transport (transferrin), and blood clotting (plasminogen and complement).
  • Gammaglobulins. All of the gammaglobulins are antibodies'proteins produced by the immune system in response to infection, allergic reactions, and organ transplants. If serum protein electrophoresis has demonstrated a significant rise at the gammaglobulin level, immunoelectrophoresis is done to identify the specific globulin that is involved.

Electrophoretic measurement of proteins

All proteins have an electrical charge. The SPEP test is designed to make use of this characteristic. There is some difference in method, but basically the sample is placed in or on a special medium (e.g., a gel), and an electric current is applied to the gel. The protein particles move through the gel according to the strength of their electrical charges, forming bands or zones. An instrument called a densitometer measures these bands, which can be identified and associated with specific diseases. For example, a decrease in albumin with a rise in the alpha2 globulin usually indicates an acute reaction of the type that occurs in infections, burns, stress, or heart attack. On the other hand, a slight decrease in albumin, with a slight increase in gammaglobulin, and a normal alpha2 globulin is more indicative of a chronic inflammatory condition, as might be seen in cirrhosis of the liver.

Protein electrophoresis is performed on urine samples to classify kidney disorders that cause protein loss. Here also certain band patterns are specific for disease. For example, the identification of a specific protein called the Bence Jones protein (by performing the Bence Jones protein test) during the procedure suggests multiple myeloma.

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