Protein Electrophoresis
Immunofixation Electrophoresis

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Also known as: Serum Protein Electrophoresis; Protein ELP; SPE; SPEP; Urine Protein Electrophoresis; UPE; UPEP; IFE; CSF Protein Electrophoresis
Formal name: Protein Electrophoresis; Immunofixation Electrophoresis

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To help diagnose or monitor conditions that result in abnormal protein production or loss

When to Get Tested?

If you have an abnormal total protein or albumin blood test or if you have symptoms of diseases that are characterized by abnormal protein production, such as multiple myeloma or multiple sclerosis

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm; sometimes a random or 24-hour urine sample; sometimes a sample of cerebrospinal fluid

Test Preparation Needed?

None

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Body fluids contain many different proteins that serve diverse functions such as transport of nutrients, removal of toxins, control of metabolic processes, and defense against invaders. Protein electrophoresis is a method for separating these proteins based on their size and electrical charge. When body fluids are separated by electrophoresis, they form a characteristic pattern of bands of different widths and intensities, reflecting the mixture of proteins present. This pattern is divided into five fractions, called albumin, alpha 1, alpha 2, beta, and gamma. In some cases, the beta fraction is further divided into beta 1 and beta 2.

Albumin, which is produced in the liver, accounts for about 60% of the protein in the blood. "Globulins" is a collective term used to refer to proteins other than albumin. With the exception of the immunoglobulins and some complement proteins, most of the globulins are also produced in the liver.

Immunofixation electrophoresis (IFE) is a method used to identify abnormal bands seen on serum, urine, or CSF protein electrophoresis, as to which type of antibody (immunoglobulin) is present.

The major plasma proteins and their functions are listed according to their electrophoretic group in a table titled Protein Groups.

How is the sample collected for testing?

Protein electrophoresis is typically done on serum and urine samples. A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm. Urine samples may either be a random sample (not timed) or a 24-hour urine sample. CSF is collected by a spinal tap (inserting a needle into the spine to withdraw spinal fluid).

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

The Test

Common Questions

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Article Sources

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.

Sources Used in Current Review

Dugdale III, D. (Updated 2010 February 5). Protein electrophoresis – serum. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003540.htm. Accessed May 2011.

Dugdale III, D. (Updated 2011 January 24). Protein electrophoresis – urine. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003589.htm. Accessed May 2011.

Rogoski, R. (2009 July). Serum free light chain assays: Detecting plasma cell disorders. Medical Laboratory Observer [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.mlo-online.com/features/2009_july/0709_coverstory.aspx through http://www.mlo-online.com. Accessed May 2010.

(© 1995–2010). Unit Code 80085: Electrophoresis, Protein, Serum. Mayo Clinic Mayo Medical Laboratories [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Clinical+and+Interpretive/80085 through http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com. Accessed May 2011.

Wood, P. et. al. (2010 November 8). Comparison of Serum Immunofixation Electrophoresis and Free Light Chain Assays in the Detection of Monoclonal Gammopathies. Medscape Today from Clin Lymphoma Myeloma. 2010;10(4):278-280 [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/729328 through http://www.medscape.com. Accessed May 2011.

(©2006-2010). Protein Electrophoresis, CSF : 0050590. ARUP's Laboratory Test Directory. [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.aruplab.com/guides/ug/tests/0050590.jsp through http://www.aruplab.com. Accessed May 2011.

O'Connell T, Horita T, Kasravi B. Understanding and Interpreting Protein Electrophoresis. Am Fam Physician 2005 Jan 1;71(1):105-112. Available online at http://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/0101/p105.html through http://www.aafp.org. Accessed May 2011.

Clarke, W. and Dufour, D. R., Editors (2006). Contemporary Practice in Clinical Chemistry. AACC Press, Washington, DC. Chapter 17, Pp 89-91.

Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. McPherson R, Pincus M, eds. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier: 2007, Pp 232-233, 241-242, 400, 843-846.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

Thomas, Clayton L., Editor (1997). Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, PA [18th Edition].

Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (2001). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 5th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO.

Spengler, Renee (2002 September 5, Updated). LaurusHealth.com Health Library, Medical Tests [On-line information]. Available online

Thomson Corporation (2002). Immunoelectrophoresis. Hendrick Health System, AccessMed Health Information Library [On-line information]. Available online through http://www.ehendrick.org/healthy/

Thomson Corporation (2002). Protein Electrophoresis. Hendrick Health System, AccessMed Health Information Library [On-line information]. Available online through http://www.ehendrick.org/healthy/

Thomson Corporation (2003 January 28). Immunoelectrophoresis. BluePrint for Health, BC/BS of Minnesota [On-line information]. Available online at http://blueprint.bluecrossmn.com/topic/topic100587005 through http://blueprint.bluecrossmn.com.

Immunofixation Electrophoresis, Quantitative. ARUP's Guide to Clinical Laboratory Testing (CLT) [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.aruplab.com/guides/clt/tests/clt_al4b.htm#1152005 through http://www.aruplab.com.

Protein Electrophoresis. ARUP's Guide to Clinical Laboratory Testing (CLT) [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.aruplab.com/guides/clt/tests/clt_155b.htm#1145652 through http://www.aruplab.com.

Elstrom, R. (2001 October 21, Updated). Immunoelectrophoresis - serum. MEDLINEplus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003541.htm.

Elstrom, R. (2001 November 3, Updated). Immunoelectrophoresis - urine. MEDLINEplus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003592.htm.

Elstrom, R. (2001 October 21, Updated). Protein electrophoresis - serum. MEDLINEplus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003540.htm.

Elstrom, R. (2001 November 3, Updated). Protein electrophoresis - urine. MEDLINEplus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003589.htm.

Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (© 2007). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 8th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO. Pp. 775-780.

Clarke, W. and Dufour, D. R., Editors (2006). Contemporary Practice in Clinical Chemistry, AACC Press, Washington, DC. Pp. 197-210.

Wu, A. (2006). Tietz Clinical Guide to Laboratory Tests, Fourth Edition. Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri. Pp. 922-926.

Nanda, R. (2007 March 8, Updated). Protein electrophoresis serum. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003540.htm. Accessed on 9/09/07.

(2005 January 1). OConnell, T. et. al. Understanding and Interpreting Serum Protein Electrophoresis. American Family Physician 2005;71(1):105-112 [On-line journal article]. Available online at http://www.aafp.org/afp/20050101/105.html through http://www.aafp.org. Accessed on 9/09/07.

Lonial, S. (2005 September 9, Reviewed). Multiple Myeloma Diagnosis and Staging. Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.multiplemyeloma.org/about_myeloma/2.05.php through http://www.multiplemyeloma.org. Accessed on 9/09/07.