Pitfalls in the method for demonstrating antinuclear antibodies (ANA) by the indirect immunofluorescence technique are described and the use of international standard preparations outlined. Determination of the optimal border dilution dividing positive from negative results is discussed. Each laboratory is a unique setting; it must define its own method, which should rarely be changed. One should not rely on copying methods from other laboratories or commercial firms, but the reproducibility of the nuclear substrate, the conjugate, and other variables should be controlled daily by the use of a control serum which has been related to the WHO standard preparation for ANA of the homogeneous type. Since many sera contain mixtures of different ANA, the results of routine tests are best expressed in titres or expressions of the intensity of fluorescence. The ANA test using the immunofluorescence technique should be used as a screening method for other tests allowing a more defined interpretation of the ANA. Each laboratory should individually determine the border between positive and negative results. Therefore about 200 sera from local healthy controls equally distributed over sex and age, and 100 sera from local patients with definite SLE should be tested. Since the local clinicians should become acquainted with this border it should rarely be changed. Finally each laboratory should participate regularly in national and international quality control rounds, where sera known to be difficult to interpret are tested. The judgment of the organisers of these rounds should stimulate improvements in the participating laboratories.
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