Types of ELISA

Familiarize yourself with all of the available ELISA methods including direct, indirect, sandwich, and competitive ELISA. 


Also known as inhibition ELISA or competitive immunoassay, this assay measures the concentration of an antigen by detection of signal interference. Each of the previous formats can be adapted to the competitive format. The sample antigen competes with a reference antigen for binding to a specific amount of labeled antibody. The reference antigen is pre-coated on a multi-well plate. The sample is pre-incubated with labeled antibody and added to the wells. Depending on the amount of antigen in the sample, more or less free antibodies will be available to bind the reference antigen. This means the more antigen there is in the sample, the less reference antigen will be detected and the weaker the signal.
Some competitive ELISA kits use labeled antigen instead of labeled antibody. The labeled antigen and the sample antigen (unlabeled) compete for binding to the primary antibody. The lower the amount of antigen in the sample, the stronger the signal due to more labelled antigen in the well.
See all competitive ELISA kits at www.abcam.com/competitive-ELISA-kits
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Figure 1: The different types of ELISA (direct, indirect, sandwich, and competitive)


ELISA assays can be found in different formats, each one with its own advantages and disadvantages. The diagram above illustrates the four main different types of ELISA. 

Direct ELISA

The antigen is immobilized to the surface of the multi-well plate and detected with an antibody specific for the antigen and directly conjugated to HRP or other detection molecules. 

Indirect ELISA
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Similar to direct ELISA assays, the antigen is immobilized to the surface of the multi-well plate. However, a two-step process is required for detection whereby a primary antibody specific for the antigen binds to the target, and a labeled secondary antibody against the host species of the primary antibody binds to the primary antibody for detection.
The method can also be used to detect specific antibodies in a serum sample by substituting the serum for the primary antibody.

Explore our offering of indirect ELISA kits and reagents

Sandwich ELISA
Sandwich ELISA (or sandwich immunoassay) is the most commonly used format. This format requires two antibodies specific for different epitopes of the antigen. These two antibodies are normally referred to as matched antibody pairs. One of the antibodies is coated on the surface of the multi-well plate and used as a capture antibody to facilitate the immobilization of the antigen.  The other antibody is conjugated and facilitates the detection of the antigen.

Explore our offering of sandwich ELISA kits and reagents

SimpleStep ELISA® Kits
Our brand of SimpleStep ELISA® kits provides improved speed and performance while retaining the familiar process and standard data output of a traditional ELISA kit. SimpleStep ELISA® kits reduce the number of wash steps by enabling the sandwich complex formation in one step rather than sequentially. Total time required is less than two hours.

Explore our offering of SimpleStep ELISA kits and reagents

Competitive ELISA
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Also known as inhibition ELISA or competitive immunoassay, this assay measures the concentration of an antigen by detection of signal interference. Each of the previous formats can be adapted to the competitive format. The sample antigen competes with a reference antigen for binding to a specific amount of labeled antibody. The reference antigen is pre-coated on a multi-well plate. The sample is pre-incubated with labeled antibody and added to the wells. Depending on the amount of antigen in the sample, more or less free antibodies will be available to bind the reference antigen. This means the more antigen there is in the sample, the less reference antigen will be detected and the weaker the signal.
Some competitive ELISA kits use labeled antigen instead of a labeled antibody. The labeled antigen and the sample antigen (unlabeled) compete for binding to the primary antibody. The lower the amount of antigen in the sample, the stronger the signal due to more labeled antigen in the well.

Explore our offering of competitive ELISA kits and reagents


Explore our full offering of ELISA kits and reagents


Advantages and disadvantages of the different types of ELISA


AdvantagesDisadvantages
Direct ELISAShort protocol: saves time and reagents.
No cross-reactivity from secondary antibody.
Potential high background: all proteins in the sample bind to the surface.
No signal amplification.
Low flexibility: the primary antibody must be conjugated.
Indirect ELISASignal amplification: several secondary antibodies will bind to the primary antibody.
High flexibility: the same secondary antibody may be used for several primary antibodies.
Long protocol if compared to direct ELISA.
Potential cross-reactivity from secondary antibody.
Sandwich ELISAHigh specificity: involves two antibodies detecting different epitopes on the same antigen.
Suitable for complex samples.
High flexibility and sensitivity: both direct and indirect methods can be used.
Demanding design: finding two antibodies against the same target that recognize different epitopes and work well together can be challenging at times.
Competitive ELISADepends on base ELISA selected.
Suitable for small antigens.
Depends on base ELISA selected.

ELISA guide

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