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Clin Diagn Lab Immunol. 2001 May;8(3):534-9.

Western immunoblotting with five Treponema pallidum recombinant antigens for serologic diagnosis of syphilis.

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Section of Microbiology, DMCSS, University of Bologna, St. Orsola Hospital, Bologna, Italy.


Five immunodominant Treponema pallidum recombinant polypeptides (rTpN47, rTmpA, rTpN37, rTpN17, and rTpN15) were blotted onto strips, and 450 sera (200 from blood donors, 200 from syphilis patients, and 50 potentially cross-reactive) were tested to evaluate the diagnostic performance of recombinant Western blotting (recWB) in comparison with in-house whole-cell lysate antigen-based immunoblotting (wclWB) and T. pallidum hemagglutination (MHA-TP) for the laboratory diagnosis of syphilis. None of the serum specimens from blood donors or from potential cross-reactors gave a positive result when evaluated by recWB, wclWB, or MHA-TP. The evaluation of the immunoglobulin G immune response by recWB in sera from patients with different stages of syphilis showed that rTmpA was the most frequently identified antigen (95%), whereas only 41% of the specimens were reactive to rTpN37. The remaining recombinant polypeptides were recognized as follows: rTpN47, 92.5%; rTpN17, 89.5%; and rTpN15, 67.5%. The agreement between recWB and MHA-TP was 95.0% (100% with sera from patients with latent and late disease), and the concordance between wclWB and MHA-TP was 92.0%. The overall concordance between recWB and wclWB was 97.5% (100% with sera from patients with secondary and late syphilis and 94.6 and 98.6% with sera from patients with primary and latent syphilis, respectively). The overall sensitivity of recWB was 98.8% and the specificity was 97.1% with MHA-TP as the reference method. These values for sensitivity and specificity were slightly superior to those calculated for wclWB (sensitivity, 97.1%, and specificity, 96.1%). With wclWB as the standard test, the sensitivity and specificity of recWB were 98.9 and 99.3%, respectively. These findings suggest that the five recombinant polypeptides used in this study could be used as substitutes for the whole-cell lysate T. pallidum antigens and that this newly developed recWB test is a good, easy-to-use confirmatory method for the detection of syphilis antibodies in serum.

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