Clinical Chemistry / Clinical Lab Industry News / Disease States

Ask the expert – what are cytokines?

CytokinesWelcome to ‘Ask the Expert’.  Our expert today is Dr Martin Crockard of Randox Laboratories Ltd.  Dr. Crockard describes what cytokines are, their functions and how they are clinically relevant within the diagnostic arena.

Cytokines are soluble signalling proteins and glycoproteins employed in cellular communication during immune and inflammatory responses.  They have been implicated in pathological conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, allergic response and play a significant role in surgery recovery, including transplants.

Cytokines can affect their host cell (autocrine), nearby cells (paracrine) or in some cases, distant cells (endocrine).  They are characterised by considerable redundancy, so measuring a single cytokine may miss an important facet of a response progression.  In addition, the common cascading of cytokines can more readily be observed if a suite of these proteins is measured simultaneously, leading to a greater understanding of the disease process and subsequent management; this has become increasingly desirable in laboratory medicine.

The concept that a single molecule could possess multiple diverse biological activities was initially viewed with scepticism, but the advent of molecular cloning of cytokine cDNA and subsequent expression of recombinant forms, removed any doubt.  Using these tools, cytokine research advanced rapidly, exposing these as multipurpose biological agents in a multitude of human conditions.  Recombinant cytokines also provided antigens for antibody production, leading to the rapid quantification of their antigens using ELISA or ELISA-based technology, such as Randox’s Biochip Array Technology (BAT).

The duplication in cytokine function is demonstrated in the host defence and immune response.  Microbial infection stimulates the release of a diverse range of cytokines, which set in train several mechanisms that can deal with the invasion.  For example, cells migrate to the site of infection, reactive oxygen species are produced to aid phagocyte-mediated assassination and coagulation is promoted.  Concurrently, additional cytokines assist dendritic cells in the process of microbe antigen presentation, which leads to the production of neutralising antibodies.  The importance of the action of cytokines has conferred evolutionary pressure to have alternatives in host defence and the immune response.  This has made studying disease responses much more problematic and again highlights the need to study a suite of cytokines or cytokine receptors simultaneously.

In some cases, the immune response over-reacts, turning cytokines against the body they are designed to protect.  When the cytokine cascades fail to shut down, they drive the host into a state of chronically activated cells, which dominate an otherwise dormant immune system.  Examples of the most obvious manifestations of this hypersensitivity are an unnecessary inflammatory response and fever, both of which can be life threatening if left untreated.

To define the influence of the immune response in a multitude of human conditions, Randox offer a comprehensive panel of 35 cytokines, receptors and growth factors, over 5 multi-analyte arrays.  Each cytokine assay is performed on a 9 x 9mm activated biochip with spatially discrete test regions containing antibodies specific to each of the analytes.  The combination of highly specific antibodies and advanced chemistries enables up to 12 cytokines and growth factors to be detected simultaneously in a single, 100µl serum sample, providing valuable information relating to each cytokine under test and associations between cytokines.

Quality control is an important aspect in all multiplex testing, so Randox offer Quality Control Assays to complement their cytokine panels.  With a rapidly increasing portfolio of multiplex assays, Randox will have a test panel to suit your needs.


Randox Laboratories provide a panel of cytokines, receptors and growth factors which can be used in the detection and screening of a number of disease states, including autoimmune diseases and cancer.

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