The 99th percentile of reference population for cTnI and cTnT assay: methodology, pathophysiology and clinical implications

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According to recent international guidelines, including the 2012 Third Universal Definiton of Myocardial Infarction by the Joint ESC/ACCF/AHA/WHF Task Force, an increase in cardiac troponin (cTn) levels over the 99th percentile upper reference limit (99th URL) should be considered clinically relevant, this cut-off being measured with an imprecision ≤10 CV%. In theory 99th URL values strongly depend not only on demographic and physiological variables (i.e. criteria for considering the reference population “healthy”), but also on the analytical performance of cTn methods and mathematical algorithms used for the calculation. The aim of the present article was therefore to review the methodological and pathophysiological factors affecting the evaluation and calculation of the 99th URL for cTn assay. The critical analysis made showed that no uniform procedure is followed, and nor have experts or regulatory bodies provided uniform guidelines for researchers or cTn assays manufacturers as an aid in “their quest to define normality”. In particular, little attention has been paid to the way in which a healthy reference population is to be selected, or the criteria for calculating the 99th URL value for cTn assays, thus highlighting the need for international recommendations not only for demographic and physiological variables criteria for defining a healthy reference population, but also for calculating mathematical algorithms for establishing/calculating clinical decision values. An expert consensus group, comprising laboratory and clinical scientists, biomedical statisticians, industrial and regulatory representatives, should be responsible for drawing up these guidelines.

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