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Acc Chem Res. 2010 Jun 15;43(6):867-76. doi: 10.1021/ar900279d.

Immunodetection of proteins in ancient paint media.

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Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie Molecolari-CNR, c/o Dipartimento di Chimica, Università di Perugia, via Elce di Sotto 8, 06123 Perugia, Italy.


Diagnostic immunology is a powerful tool, widely used in clinical and biochemical laboratories for detecting molecules. In recent years, the technique has been adapted to materials sciences as a result of the extensive advances achieved in immunology. Today, many companies supply custom antibodies as well as new high-performance bioprobes for virtually any use. The idea of using immunodetection in the field of conservation science is not new. This analytical methodology is, in fact, particularly attractive for investigating biopolymers in painting materials; it is highly sensitive and selective with respect to the biological source of the target molecules. Among biopolymers, proteins have been widely used in the past as painting binders, adhesives, and additives in coating layers. An accurate assessment of these materials is necessary to obtain deeper insights into an artist's technique as well as to design proper restoration and conservation methods. In spite of the diagnostic potential offered by immunodetection-based techniques, some analytical drawbacks had, until recently, limited their use in routine applications in conservation science. In this Account, we highlight the most important results achieved in our research on the development of analytical methodologies based on the use of enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and immuno-fluorescence microscopy (IFM) techniques for the highly sensitive and specific identification of proteins in artistic and archeological materials. ELISA and IFM offer two alternative analytical routes to this final goal: ELISA provides a fast, cost-effective, quantitative analysis of microsamples put in solution, whereas IFM combines the immunodetection of the targeted molecules with the characterization of their spatial distribution. The latter approach is of great value in the stratigraphic investigation of paintings. We discuss the limits and strengths of these methodologies in the context of the complex matrixes usually found in the investigated materials and the prolonged aging that they have undergone. Immunology is a relatively new technique in conservation science, providing a rich new field for innovation. We see two areas that are particularly ripe for future contributions. The commercial manufacture of antibodies specifically tailored for use in cultural heritage studies holds enormous potential. Moreover, the need for further refinement of detection systems in immuno-fluorescence techniques, especially the suppression of the autofluorescence background in painting materials, offers an abundance of opportunities for researchers. Immunology is a relatively new technique in conservation science, providing a rich new field for innovation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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