Background: The quality of testosterone assays has been a matter of debate for several years. Known limitations of testosterone immunoassays are the cross-reactivity with other steroids and a high variation in the low concentration range. We hypothesized that one of the additional limitations of testosterone immunoassays is an ineffective displacement of testosterone from its binding protein.
Methods: Thirty samples from women not using oral contraceptives (OAC), 30 samples from women using OAC, and 30 samples from pregnant women were used to measure testosterone by an isotope dilution (ID)-LC-MS/MS method and by 6 commercially available testosterone immunoassays (UniCel®, ARCHITECT®, Centaur®, Cobas®, Immulite®, and Liaison®). In addition, sex hormone–binding globulin (SHBG)4 was measured by immunoassay (ARCHITECT).
Results: The first-generation immunoassays (UniCel, Centaur, Immulite, and Liaison) showed inaccurate testosterone results in the method comparisons with the ID-LC-MS/MS method (R between 0.61 and 0.86) and for some assays (UniCel and Liaison) also a very poor standardization (slopes of 0.59 and 0.67, respectively). On average, SHBG concentrations were lowest in women not using OAC and highest in pregnant women, and overall ranged from 18.5 to 633 nmol/L. In the first-generation immunoassays, but not in the second-generation immunoassays, we observed an inverse relationship between SHBG concentrations and deviations in testosterone from the ID-LC-MS/MS results.
Conclusions: Widely used first-generation testosterone immunoassays are influenced by SHBG concentrations, which lead to inaccurate results in samples from patients with high or low SHBG concentrations, respectively. Laboratory specialists, clinicians, and researchers should be aware of this limitation in testosterone assays.
- Received April 15, 2016.
- Accepted May 27, 2016.
- © 2016 American Association for Clinical Chemistry