BACKGROUND: Microfibrillar-associated protein 4 (MFAP4) is a systemic biomarker that is significantly elevated in samples from patients suffering from hepatic cirrhosis. The protein is generally localized to elastic fibers and other connective tissue fibers in the extracellular matrix (ECM), and variation in systemic MFAP4 (sMFAP4) has the potential to reflect diverse diseases with increased ECM turnover. Here, we aimed to validate an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for the measurement of sMFAP4 with an emphasis on the robustness of the assay. Moreover, we aimed to determine confounders influencing the basal sMFAP4 variability and the genetic contribution to the basal variation.
METHODS: The sandwich ELISA was based on two monoclonal anti-MFAP4 antibodies and was optimized and calibrated with a standard of recombinant MFAP4. The importance of pre-analytical sample handling was evaluated regarding sample tube type, time, and temperature conditions. The mean value structure and variance structure was determined in a twin cohort including 1,417 Danish twins (age 18-67 years) by mixed-effect linear regression modeling.
RESULTS: The practical working range of the sandwich ELISA was estimated to be 4-75 U/ml. The maximum intra- and inter-assay variation was estimated to be 8.7% and 6.6%, respectively. Sample handling and processing appeared to influence MFAP4 measurements only marginally. The average concentration of sMFAP4 in the serum was 18.9 ± 8.4 (SD) U/ml in the twin cohort (95% CI: 18.5-19.4, median sMFAP4 17.3 U/ml). The mean structure model was demonstrated to include waist-hip ratio, age, and cigarette smoking status in interactions with gender. A relatively low heritability of h(2) = 0.24 was found after applying a model including additive genetic factors and shared and non-shared environmental factors.
CONCLUSIONS: The described ELISA provides robust measures of the liver fibrosis marker sMFAP4. The low heritability and the relatively limited basal variation suggest that increased sMFAP4 reflects disease-induced processes.