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J Clin Microbiol. 1992 Dec;30(12):3082-8.

Diagnosis of early Lyme disease by polymerase chain reaction amplification and culture of skin biopsies from erythema migrans lesions.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, New York Medical College, Valhalla 10595.


Current laboratory diagnosis of Lyme disease relies on tests for the detection of antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi, the etiologic agent of the disease. These tests are often unreliable because of a lack of sensitivity and specificity and test-to-test variability. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification for detection of B. burgdorferi in skin biopsy specimens. Forty-six 2-mm skin biopsy samples were obtained from 44 patients with a clinical diagnosis of erythema migrans, 9 of whom were receiving antibiotic therapy at the time of biopsy. Specimens were ground in BSK medium with separate aliquots taken for culture and PCR. Of the specimens from the untreated group, 57% (21 of 37) were positive by culture and 22% (8 of 37) were culture negative; 22% (8 of 37) of the cultures were uninformative because of contamination. By comparison, 22 (59%) of 37 specimens were positive by PCR amplification. Of 21 culture-positive samples, 13 (62%) were also positive by PCR analysis. Thus, the sensitivity of the PCR was 59 to 62%, based on either a clinical or cultural diagnosis of untreated Lyme disease. None of the nine specimens from antibiotic-treated patients grew in culture, whereas two of the nine were positive by PCR analysis. Given the complexity and time required for culture, PCR is a promising technique for the diagnosis of early Lyme disease.

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