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BMC Clin Pathol. 2014 Jul 14;14:33. doi: 10.1186/1472-6890-14-33. eCollection 2014.

Cross-reactivity of steroid hormone immunoassays: clinical significance and two-dimensional molecular similarity prediction.

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Department of Pathology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, 200 Hawkins Drive, C-671 GH, Iowa, IA 52242, USA.
Department of Pathology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, 200 Hawkins Drive, C-671 GH, Iowa, IA 52242, USA ; Department of Pathology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.
Collaborations in Chemistry, Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526, USA.



Immunoassays are widely used in clinical laboratories for measurement of plasma/serum concentrations of steroid hormones such as cortisol and testosterone. Immunoassays can be performed on a variety of standard clinical chemistry analyzers, thus allowing even small clinical laboratories to do analysis on-site. One limitation of steroid hormone immunoassays is interference caused by compounds with structural similarity to the target steroid of the assay. Interfering molecules include structurally related endogenous compounds and their metabolites as well as drugs such as anabolic steroids and synthetic glucocorticoids.


Cross-reactivity of a structurally diverse set of compounds were determined for the Roche Diagnostics Elecsys assays for cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) sulfate, estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone. These data were compared and contrasted to package insert data and published cross-reactivity studies for other marketed steroid hormone immunoassays. Cross-reactivity was computationally predicted using the technique of two-dimensional molecular similarity.


The Roche Elecsys Cortisol and Testosterone II assays showed a wider range of cross-reactivity than the DHEA sulfate, Estradiol II, and Progesterone II assays. 6-Methylprednisolone and prednisolone showed high cross-reactivity for the cortisol assay, with high likelihood of clinically significant effect for patients administered these drugs. In addition, 21-deoxycortisol likely produces clinically relevant cross-reactivity for cortisol in patients with 21-hydroxylase deficiency, while 11-deoxycortisol may produce clinically relevant cross-reactivity in 11β-hydroxylase deficiency or following metyrapone challenge. Several anabolic steroids may produce clinically significant false positives on the testosterone assay, although interpretation is limited by sparse pharmacokinetic data for some of these drugs. Norethindrone therapy may impact immunoassay measurement of testosterone in women. Using two-dimensional similarity calculations, all compounds with high cross-reactivity also showed a high degree of similarity to the target molecule of the immunoassay.


Compounds producing cross-reactivity in steroid hormone immunoassays generally have a high degree of structural similarity to the target hormone. Clinically significant interactions can occur with structurally similar drugs (e.g., prednisolone and cortisol immunoassays; methyltestosterone and testosterone immunoassays) or with endogenous compounds such as 21-deoxycortisol that can accumulate to very high concentrations in certain disease conditions. Simple similarity calculations can help triage compounds for future testing of assay cross-reactivity.


Anabolic agents; Estradiol; Glucocorticoids; Immunoassays; Progesterone; Similarity; Testosterone

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