Multiplex (assay)

Multiplex (assay)
For other uses of multiplex, see multiplex (disambiguation).

A multiplex assay is a type of laboratory procedure that simultaneously measures multiple analytes (dozens or more) in a single assay. It is distinguished from procedures that measure one or a few analytes at a time. Multiplex assays within a given application area or class of technology can be further stratified based on how many analytes can be measured per assay, where "multiplex" refers to those with the highest number of analyte measurements per assay (up to millions) and "low-plex" or "mid-plex" refers to procedures that process fewer (10s to 1000s), though there are no formal guidelines for calling a procedure multi-, mid-, or low-plex based on number of analytes measured. Single-analyte assays or low-to-mid-plex procedures typically predate the rise of their multiplex versions, which often require specialized technologies or miniaturization to achieve a higher degree of parallelization.

Multiplex assays are widely used in functional genomics experiments that endeavor to detect or to assay the state of all biomolecules of a given class (e.g., mRNAs, proteins) within a biological sample, to determine the effect of an experimental treatment or the effect of a DNA mutation over all of the biomolecules or pathways in the sample. The ability to perform such multiplex assay experiments measuring large numbers of biomolecular analytes has been facilitated by the completion of the human genome sequence and that of many other model organisms.


"Multiplex" versus "High-throughput"

Multiplex assays are often used in high-throughput screening settings, where many specimens can be analyzed using a multiplex (or other) assay. Strictly speaking, a multiplex assay is not necessarily high-throughput. When the execution of a single multiplex assay generates data for a large number of analytes (e.g., gene expression levels for all genes in the human genome), it is considered high-throughput. However, it is more the ability to rapidly process multiple specimens in an automated fashion that characterizes high-throughput techniques. Massive parallelization of assays is one way to achieve "high-throughput" status. Another way is via automating a manual laboratory procedure.

Example multiplex assay techniques

Nucleic acid-based multiplex techniques

Protein-based multiplex techniques

  • Protein microarray for measuring protein-protein interactions or small molecule binding
  • Antibody microarray a type of protein array in which antibodies are arrayed
  • Phage display for screening large protein libraries for interacting proteins or other molecules

Other multiplex techniques

  • Tissue microarray for analyzing multiple tissue samples
  • Cellular microarray for observing cellular responses against a panel of materials
  • Chemical compound microarray to assay multiple chemical compounds for specific activities
  • Multiplex detection enables the simultaneous detection of two or more targets on a western blot.[1]
  • Multiplex biomarker analysis of urine.[2]
  • ELISAs are a type of assay that is not multiplex per se because each assay detects a single analyte, but it is typically parallelized via microtiter plates to achieve high-throughput sample processing.


  1. ^ Ambroz K., (2006). "Improving quantitation accuracy for western blots".Image Analysis 09/2006.[1]
  2. ^ Laxman B, Morris DS, Yu J, et al. (February 2008). "A first-generation multiplex biomarker analysis of urine for the early detection of prostate cancer". Cancer Res. 68 (3): 645–9. doi:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-07-3224. PMC 2998181. PMID 18245462. 

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