When a patient has elevated protein levels in the blood or is losing protein in the urine, a clinician will often order a polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) assay. This assay compares the relative abundance of the various types of serum proteins. Abnormal protein electrophoresis patterns can be further studied using immunoelectrophoresis (IEP). The IEP begins by running a PAGE. Antisera against selected serum proteins are added to troughs running parallel to the electrophoresis track, forming precipitin arcs similar to those seen in an Ouchterlony assay. This allows the identification of abnormal immunoglobulin proteins in the sample.
IEP is particularly useful in the diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a cancer of antibody-secreting cells. Patients with multiple myeloma cannot produce healthy antibodies; instead they produce abnormal antibodies that are monoclonal proteins (M proteins). Thus, patients with multiple myeloma will present with elevated serum protein levels that show a distinct band in the gamma globulin region of a protein electrophoresis gel and a sharp spike (in M protein) on the densitometer scan rather than the normal broad smear. When antibodies against the various types of antibody heavy and light chains are used to form precipitin arcs, the M protein will cause distinctly skewed arcs against one class of heavy chain and one class of light chain as seen in the image above.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology