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Infect Immun. Aug 1994; 62(8): 3213–3221.
PMCID: PMC302948

Humoral immune response to outer surface protein C of Borrelia burgdorferi in Lyme disease: role of the immunoglobulin M response in the serodiagnosis of early infection.

Abstract

We determined the humoral immune response to outer surface protein C (OspC) of Borrelia burgdorferi in patients with early or late manifestations of Lyme disease and investigated the use of this antigen in the serodiagnosis of early infection. The ospC gene from the low-passage human isolate 297, a North American B. burgdorferi strain, was used to make a recombinant maltose-binding protein (MBP)-OspC fusion protein for serologic tests. This gene showed 84 to 85% nucleotide sequence identity and 76 to 79% amino acid identity with ospC of B. burgdorferi B31 and 2591. The antibody responses to MBP-OspC were determined in serial sera from 15 patients with Lyme disease who were monitored for 4 to 12 years of illness, in single-serum samples from 189 patients with early or late manifestations of the disorder, and in serum samples from 106 control patients. Early in the infection, patients with erythema migrans or meningitis commonly had weak to strong immunoglobulin M (IgM) responses to OspC and sometimes weak to moderate IgG responses. Months to years later, weak to strong IgG reactivity with this protein was often apparent in patients with arthritis, but this response was weak or absent in patients with chronic neuroborreliosis. When acute- and convalescent-phase serum samples from patients with erythema migrans were tested for reactivity against MBP-OspC, the sensitivity of the IgM test was 73% and the specificity was 98%, with either enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or Western blotting. We conclude that the majority of patients with Lyme disease have a prominent IgM response to OspC early in the illness, which is often followed by a prominent IgG response in patients with arthritis. For the serodiagnosis of early infection, the sensitivity and specificity of IgM ELISA and Western blotting were comparable or slightly improved when MBP-OspC was used as the antigen compared with tests in which spirochetal lysates were used.

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