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Tick-borne relapsing fever is caused by numerous Borrelia species maintained in nature by Ornithodoros tick-mammal cycles. Serological confirmation is based on either an immunofluorescence assay or an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay using whole cells or sonicated Borrelia hermsii as the antigen. However, antigenic variability of this bacterium’s outer surface proteins and antigens shared with the
Lyme disease spirochete (B. burgdorferi), may cause both false-negative and false-positive results when testing sera of patients suspected to have either relapsing fever or
Lyme disease. To develop a specific serological test for relapsing fever, we created a genomic DNA library of B. hermsii, screened transformed Escherichia coli cells for immunoreactivity with high-titered (> or = 1:2,048) human anti-B. hermsii antiserum, and selected an immunoreactive clone (pSPR75) expressing a 39-kDa protein. DNA sequencing, subcloning, and serum adsorption experiments identified the immunoreactive protein as a homolog of GlpQ, a glycerophosphodiester phosphodiesterase identified previously in E. coli, Haemophilus influenzae, and Bacillus subtilis. Serum samples from humans and mice infected with B. hermsii or other species of relapsing fever spirochetes contained antibodies recognizing GlpQ, whereas serum samples from
Lyme disease and syphilis patients were nonreactive. Serologic tests based on this antigen will identify people exposed previously to relapsing fever spirochetes and help clarify the distribution of relapsing fever and
Lyme disease in situations in which the occurrence of their causative agents is uncertain.