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Detection of Borrelia DNA in synovial fluid for diagnosis of Lyme arthritis.

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To test sensitivity and specificity of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) targeting the Borrelia specific outer surface protein (Osp) A gene in synovial fluid for the diagnosis of
Lyme arthritis, and thus permit an earlier start to treatment.


Prospectively we examined the synovial fluid of 37 patients with the clinical diagnosis of
Lyme arthritis or with other arthropathies of known or unknown origin, searching for the presence of detectable borrelial DNA in both arms of the study. Retrospectively we examined the stored synovial fluid from 50 patients of the Department of Rheumatology of the University Hospital, Berne, with the clinical diagnosis of monarthritis or oligoarthritis of unknown etiology, juvenile chronic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. The laboratory biologist was unaware of the clinical diagnosis.


In the prospective study no true false positive results were found: of the 28 patients without strong clinical suspicion of
Lyme arthritis 27 were PCR negative. In one case with positive PCR for borrelial DNA the diagnosis could not be clarified,
Lyme arthritis remaining a possibility. Therefore the specificity in the prospective study was at least 96%. Borrelial DNA in the synovial fluid was found in 5 out of 9 patients with strong clinical suspicion of
Lyme arthritis. All 7 patients in this group were new, untreated cases. All the 5 PCR positive results belonged to this group, thus the “sensitivity” of the tested method was 71% in untreated cases of
Lyme arthritis. In the retrospective study we found borrelial DNA in the synovial fluid of 2 patients. These 2 patients had gonarthritis of unknown origin. Retrospectively these 2 cases could be diagnosed as
Lyme arthritis.


In cases with clinical suspicion of
Lyme arthritis the PCR method targeting a borrelial Osp A gene fragment common to all 3 European genospecies shows very good specificity and in untreated cases acceptable sensitivity. Introduction of the method studied into clinical practice is justified.

Schweiz Med Wochenschr. 1999 Jul 3;129(26):979-84. English Abstract

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