Heterodimer of glycoprotein hormones alpha chain and choriogonadotropin subunit beta. Hormone produced by placental tissue and certain tumours. Its detection is the basis of the pregnancy test, but it is also used in monitoring trophoblastic disease and germ cell tumours, e.g. teratomas and certain testicular tumours, so raised levels are not always due to pregnancy.
Post-translational modification means it can be detected as a regular form, a hyperglycosylated form and as the free β-subunit of the hyperglycosylated form. The regular form is produced by placental syncytiotrophoblasts and maintains the myometrium and the placenta blood supply via the decidual spiral arteries. The hyperglycosylated form is produced by the cytotrophoblast and appears to function in an autocrine manner to promote 'invasion' of the placenta. This same hyperglycosylated form is raised in trophoblastic disease as is the free β-subunit of the hyperglycosylated form.
hCG in Pregnancy Testing
- HCG is produced once the embryo is implanted (6-12 days). Most commercial urine kits should be able to detect pregnancy as early as first missed period (i.e. 3-4 weeks). The threshold value for detection is ~25 mU/l.
- HCG falls after the first few weeks of pregnancy as the hormones required to sustain pregnancy are taken over by the placenta. By 20 weeks false negatives are possible. However, in most women, a pregnancy test is not the most useful way of confirming or excluding a 20 week pregnancy. Sustained levels of hCG after week 14 may be seen in gestational trophoblastic disease.
- Remains elevated after miscarriage or termination for some days (half-life thought to be about 24-48 hours).
- Rarely, mutations in the hCG may result in negative pregnancy tests.
The very first assays for hCG detected the whole dimer, but were sometimes poor at distinguishing between hCG and the structurally similar luteinising hormone (LH), with which it shares the same α-chain. In 1973, an assay specific to the beta sub-unit was developed, though this method has now been superceded by more modern assays that detect the whole unit. Despite this, pregnancy testing is still commonly associated with detection of the β-subunit and 'β-hCG' is often used when it is really the hCG dimer that is intended to be measured.
hCG in Trophoblastic DiseaseFalse positives are rare, but may result from heterophile antibodies. Assay of 'β-hCG' itself, as opposed to the whole hCG molecule, may be relevant in trophoblastic disease.
- ↑ Cole LA. Hyperglycosylated hCG. Placenta. 2007 Oct; 28(10):977-86.(Link to article – subscription may be required.)
- ↑ Cole LA. New discoveries on the biology and detection of human chorionic gonadotropin. Reproductive biology and endocrinology : RB&E. 2009; 7:8.(Epub) (Link to article – subscription may be required.)
- ↑ Cole LA, Kardana A, Ying FC, Birken S. The biological and clinical significance of nicks in human chorionic gonadotropin and its free beta-subunit. The Yale journal of biology and medicine. 1991 Nov-Dec; 64(6):627-37.
- ↑ Whittington J, Fantz CR, Gronowski AM, McCudden C, Mullins R, Sokoll L, Wiley C, Wilson A, Grenache DG. The analytical specificity of human chorionic gonadotropin assays determined using WHO International Reference Reagents. Clinica chimica acta; international journal of clinical chemistry. 2010 Jan; 411(1-2):81-5.(Link to article – subscription may be required.)
- ↑ Wilcox AJ, Baird DD, Weinberg CR. Time of implantation of the conceptus and loss of pregnancy. N Engl J Med. 1999 Jun 10;340(23):1796-9. (Direct link - may require subscription)
- ↑ Vaitukaitis JL, Braunstein GD, Ross GT. A radioimmunoassay which specifically measures human chorionic gonadotropin in the presence of human luteinizing hormone. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology. 1972 Jul 15; 113(6):751-8.