Free, Complexed and Total Serum Prostate Specific Antigen: The Establishment of Appropriate Reference Ranges for their Concentrations and Ratios

Joseph E. Oesterling, Steven J. Jacobsen, George G. Klee, Kim Petterson, Timo Piironen, Per Anders Abrahamsson, Ulf Hakan Stenman, Barry Dowell, Timo Lovgren, Hans Lilja

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290 Scopus citations


Purpose: Prostate specific antigen (PSA) exists in the serum in several molecular forms that can be measured by immunodetectable assays: free PSA, PSA complexed to alpha 1-antichymotrypsin (complexed PSA) and total PSA, which represents the sum of the free and complexed forms. We determined the normal distribution of values and established the appropriate reference ranges for these 3 molecular forms of PSA and their ratios (free-to-total, complexed-to-total and free-to-complexed PSA). Knowing the amount and ratio of these molecular forms appears to be useful in enhancing the ability of PSA to distinguish potentially curable prostate cancer from benign prostatic hyperplasia and in decreasing the number of unnecessary prostate biopsies. Materials and Methods: A total of 422 healthy men 40 to 79 years old was randomly chosen from the male population of Olmsted County Minnesota and underwent a detailed clinical examination that included digital rectal examination, serum PSA determination and transrectal ultrasound to exclude the presence of prostate cancer. Using newly developed, monoclonal-monoclonal immunofluorometric assays for each molecular form, the free, complexed and total PSA, and the ratios of these 3 forms were determined for each study participant. Results: All 3 molecular forms correlated directly with patient age (r = 0.45, r = 0.43 and r = 0.45, respectively). Using the 95th percentile, the recommended age-specific reference ranges for the free, complexed and total PSA forms, respectively, are 0.5, 1.0 and 2.0 ng./ml. for men 40 to 49 years old; 0.7, 1.5 and 3.0 ng./ml. for men 50 to 59 years old; 1.0, 2.0 and 4.0 ng./ml. for men 60 to 69 years old, and 1.2, 3.0 and 5.5 ng./ml. for men 70 to 79 years old. With regard to each of the ratios (free-to-total, complexed-to-total and free-to-complexed PSA) none correlated with patient age. As a result, the appropriate upper limit of normal (95th percentile) for all 3 ratios is constant for men of all ages. These reference ranges are greater than 0.15 for free-to-total PSA ratio, less than 0.70 for complexed-to-total PSA ratio and greater than 0.25 for free-to-complexed PSA ratio. The free-to-total PSA ratio will have its greatest value for men with a serum PSA value between 2 and 10 ng./ml. Conclusions: The establishment of appropriate reference ranges for free, complexed and total PSA as well as the ratios will allow the practicing urologist to incorporate these new parameters into the diagnostic evaluation of men at risk for early, potentially curable prostate cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1090-1095
Number of pages6
JournalThe Journal of urology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urology


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