Analytical issues of serum free light chain assays and the relative performance of polyclonal and monoclonal based reagents

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Serum free light chain (FLC) assays have been incorporated into routine clinical practice and their use is recommended in international guidelines for the management of monoclonal gammopathies. Given that FLCs are not simple analytes, laboratories should be aware of potential analytical issues when using FLC assays, including antigen excess, lot-to-lot variation and non-linearity. Whilst manufacturers of monoclonal antibody-based assays claim that they overcome such issues, the evidence available to date does not support this. Here we review and compare the technical performance of both polyclonal and monoclonal antibody-based assays. The evidence suggests that the Freelite assay, based on polyclonal antisera, gives a broader recognition of monoclonal FLCs than the N Latex assay, based on monoclonal antisera, and despite being cited as a technical concern, we show that lot-to-lot variation of the Freelite assay is good. Both non-linearity and antigen excess are characteristic of FLC analysis and laboratories should be aware of these phenomena regardless of the assay system they use. Comparisons of the absolute values of sFLCs determined using monoclonal and polyclonal antibody-based assays show poor quantitative agreement and, because current guidelines have been established using the polyclonal antibody-based Freelite assay, it should not be assumed that assays utilizing monoclonal antibodies will give compliance with these guidelines.

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