Serum protein electrophoresis (SPEP) is a laboratory technique that’s used to determine the levels of some types of proteins in a blood sample. There are a number of reasons why a doctor may order this test. Serum protein electrophoresis is used to help diagnose and monitor a variety of different diseases or disorders that have abnormal proteins or protein levels. Electrophoresis is not usually used by itself to diagnose a disease. Instead, it’s used along with other laboratory tests to provide more information to help with diagnosis.
Serum is the liquid part of your blood. Blood appears to be a single substance to the naked eye. However, blood has several components. Both types of blood cells (red and white) and platelets are solids. When these are removed, a liquid is left behind. This is serum.
Proteins are substances made of small chemicals called amino acids. They have a number of roles:
- They provide structure to the body.
- They help transport nutrients.
- They help the body fight off disease.
Too much or too little protein can cause problems. The five groups of proteins usually considered during the Serum protein electrophoresis test are:
Albumin: This protein transports substances and plays a role in tissue growth and repair.
Alpha-2 globulins: This class of protein has many functions in the body and is involved in inflammation.
Beta globulins: These proteins move substances, support immunity, and increase in number in multiple myeloma and conditions like high cholesterol and atherosclerosis.
Electrophoresis is a lab technique used to separate groups of proteins in blood serum. This allows them to be measured and analyzed individually. It involves exposing serum placed in a special type of gel to an electric current. This causes the different types of proteins to move and group together. The proteins create separate bands on the gel, which are then analyzed by the laboratory.
Symptoms and Conditions for Serum protein electrophoresis
Your doctor advise Serum protein electrophoresis if you are experiencing symptoms of a condition affecting the proteins in your blood serum. These symptoms could include the following:
- unexplained weight loss
- bone pain or frequent fractures
- excessive thirst
- back pain
- Some of the conditions that could be causing these symptoms are:
- thyroid problems
- liver diseases
- certain autoimmune diseases
- multiple sclerosis
Normal Range of Serum protein electrophoresis values
The following table shows what most labs would consider normal results for Serum protein electrophoresis testing. These values may vary slightly from facility to facility.
|Type of Protein||Normal Value – Amount of Protein|
|alpha-1 globulin||0.1–0.3 (grams/deciliter)|
|alpha-2 globulin||0.6–1.0 (grams/deciliter)|
|beta globulin||0.7–1.4 (grams/deciliter)|
|gamma globulin||0.7–1.6 (grams/deciliter)|
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The various proteins in the body perform different functions. This means that high or low levels of the five protein types examined during the test can point to different illnesses. Keep in mind that these are just clues. Further investigation will usually be needed to make a definitive diagnosis.
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