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The risk of obtaining false-negative results in serological assays in serum and CSF specimens with only one strain of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato as antigen was investigated in 79 patients with neuroborreliosis with specimens obtained at initial presentation. Serum antibodies were assessed by immunoblotting; the criteria of Hauser et al. were used to evaluate the test. The intrathecal synthesis of borrelial-specific IgM and IgG antibodies was examined by enzyme immunoassay (EIA). Strains of B. burgdorferi sensu stricto (BbZ160), B. garinii (Bbii50) and B. afzelii (PKO) served as sources of antigen in both assays. All patients produced either a positive IgM or IgG test in serum with at least one strain of B. burgdorferi sensu lato. Reactivity of IgM or IgG antibodies, or both, with antigens of all three strains was demonstrated in 67 (85%) of 79 sera. The correlation of results of immunoblotting with different strains was significantly better for IgG (85%) than for IgM antibodies (54%). The variability of positive IgM reactions in 18 specimens was mainly due to the fact that the antibodies were directed to the relevant variable outer-surface protein C (p23). Intrathecal synthesis of IgG antibodies was demonstrated in 58 patients (81%) of 72 and of IgM antibodies in 25 of 58 patients. No patient had isolated intrathecal synthesis of IgM antibodies. The majority of CSF samples (56 of 58) were assessed as IgG antibody-positive, independent of the borrelial strain used as antigen in EIA, whereas only 10 of 25 IgM antibody-positive CSF specimens reacted with all three strains. All patients in the study had intrathecal antibody synthesis demonstrable at 6-week follow-up. From this study it is concluded that there is a small, but real, risk of false-negative serological findings at the time of initial clinical presentation in patients with typical symptoms of neuroborreliosis. In these patients a negative serological result with one strain should prompt the repetition of the test with other strains of B. burgdorferi sensu lato.