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Clin Chem. 2001;47(7):1225-33.

Interference of transferrin isoform types with carbohydrate-deficient transferrin quantification in the identification of alcohol abuse.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Section of Clinical Alcohol and Drug Addiction Research, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden.



Isoforms of transferrin interfere with measurement of carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) as a marker of heavy alcohol consumption. We evaluated the rate of inaccurate CDT results by immunoassays.


We studied 2360 consecutive sera (1614 individuals) submitted for CDT assay without clinical information as well as samples from 1 patient with a congenital disorder of glycosylation (CDG Ia) and from 6 healthy carriers of CDG Ia. The CDTect, %CDT-TIA, and new %CDT immunoassays were compared with HPLC (%CDT-HPLC). Transferrin isoform pattern were evaluated by isoelectric focusing (IEF).


Transferrin BC and CD heterozygotes were found at frequencies of approximately 0.7% and approximately 0.2%, respectively. Another transferrin C subtype, where di- and trisialotransferrin partly coeluted (tentatively identified as C2C3), was observed in approximately 0.6%. Compared with the %CDT-HPLC method, the immunoassays often produced low results for transferrin BC and high results for transferrin CD and "C2C3". A very high trisialotransferrin value (frequency approximately 1%) often produced high CDT immunoassay results. In four of six healthy carriers of CDG Ia, a- and disialotransferrin were highly increased and the HPLC and IEF isoform patterns were indistinguishable from those in alcohol abuse.


Rare transferrin isoform types and abnormal amounts of trisialotransferrin (total frequency approximately 2-3%) may cause incorrect determination of CDT with immunoassays. The observed variants were readily identified by HPLC and IEF, which can be recommended for verification of CDT immunoassay results in doubtful cases. In healthy carriers of CDG Ia, CDT is high by all assays.

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