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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Evaluating concentration estimation errors in ELISA microarray experiments

Don Simone Daly1*, Amanda M White1, Susan M Varnum2, Kevin K Anderson1 and Richard C Zangar2

Author Affiliations

1 Statistical and Mathematical Sciences, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PO Box 999, Richland, WA, USA

2 Biological Sciences, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PO Box 999, Richland, WA, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2005, 6:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-6-17

Published: 26 January 2005



Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is a standard immunoassay to estimate a protein's concentration in a sample. Deploying ELISA in a microarray format permits simultaneous estimation of the concentrations of numerous proteins in a small sample. These estimates, however, are uncertain due to processing error and biological variability. Evaluating estimation error is critical to interpreting biological significance and improving the ELISA microarray process. Estimation error evaluation must be automated to realize a reliable high-throughput ELISA microarray system.

In this paper, we present a statistical method based on propagation of error to evaluate concentration estimation errors in the ELISA microarray process. Although propagation of error is central to this method and the focus of this paper, it is most effective only when comparable data are available. Therefore, we briefly discuss the roles of experimental design, data screening, normalization, and statistical diagnostics when evaluating ELISA microarray concentration estimation errors.


We use an ELISA microarray investigation of breast cancer biomarkers to illustrate the evaluation of concentration estimation errors. The illustration begins with a description of the design and resulting data, followed by a brief discussion of data screening and normalization. In our illustration, we fit a standard curve to the screened and normalized data, review the modeling diagnostics, and apply propagation of error.

We summarize the results with a simple, three-panel diagnostic visualization featuring a scatterplot of the standard data with logistic standard curve and 95% confidence intervals, an annotated histogram of sample measurements, and a plot of the 95% concentration coefficient of variation, or relative error, as a function of concentration.


This statistical method should be of value in the rapid evaluation and quality control of high-throughput ELISA microarray analyses. Applying propagation of error to a variety of ELISA microarray concentration estimation models is straightforward. Displaying the results in the three-panel layout succinctly summarizes both the standard and sample data while providing an informative critique of applicability of the fitted model, the uncertainty in concentration estimates, and the quality of both the experiment and the ELISA microarray process.