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CRC Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 1975 Jan;5(3):315-30.

The fluorescent treponemal antibody-absorption (FTA-ABS) test for syphilis.


The FTA test was developed at a time when immunofluorescence procedures were not well-defined. Through technique control and research, a modification of the FTA test, the FTA-ABS, has attained a position as one of the leading treponemal tests to confirm the reagin tests for syphilis. In this review of the FTA-ABS test, attention has been focused on reagent development, with the anticipation that reagent standardization may soon become a reality. The T. pallidum antigen obtained by extracting infected rabbit testicular tissue has evolved from a preparation in which the treponemes remained in the initial extracting fluid to a reagent that can be free of rabbit tissue and globulin. These washed antigen preparations improve visibility of the treponemes on the microscope slide, reduce background fluorescence, and reduce or prevent from occurring nonspecific reactions that are a result of tissue and globulin components. Both washed and nonwashed antigens are available commercially, and, to date, little differentiation has appeared on the product label. The predominant immunoglobulin that reacts with T. pallidum in the indirect fluorescent antibody tests appears to be IgG. This is the major immunoglobulin detected in the FTA-ABS test. IgM, although increased in early syphilis, is also increased in other clinical conditions. Several reports suggest that adult IgM detection in the present FTA-ABS test would be nonspecific. Until specific IgM antibody in adult syphilis can be detected without a risk to test specificity, the conjugate for the FTA-ABS test should continue to be an anti-IgG reagent. Class-specific, anti-IgG reagents are more expensive than other reagents; however, their use may eliminate the problem of nonspecificity resulting from IgM detection. Additionally, micromethods can be used to reduce cost, and this possibility should be investigated. The sorbent that contains an antigen to the Reiter treponeme may or may not specifically absorb the reactivity that occurs in normal sera; certainly, there are questionable aspects about this reagent. Group antibodies not related to Reiter treponemes may be responsible for some nonspecific reactivity; additionally, antiglobulin factors have been reported to participate in the reaction. Antigens free of rabbit serum factors and class-specific, antiimmunoglobulin reagents are available, and may lead to a better understanding of nonspecific reactions. These reagents should allow resolution of the possible multiplicity of reactivity. In this interim period, the sorbent, with its possible nonspecific nature, appears to maintain a biological balance between natural or group and immune antibodies when used to detect IgG antibody.

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