VlsE is a 35-kDa surface-exposed lipoprotein of Borrelia burgdorferi that was shown previously to undergo antigenic variation through segmental recombination of silent vls cassettes with vlsE during experimental mouse infections. Previous data had indicated that sera from North American
Lyme disease patients and experimentally infected animals contained antibodies reactive with VlsE. In this study, sera from patients with
Lyme disease, syphilis, and autoimmune conditions as well as from healthy controls were examined for reactivity with VlsE by Western blotting and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Strong Western blot reactivity to a recombinant VlsE cassette region protein was obtained consistently with
Lyme disease sera. Although sera from
Lyme disease patients also reacted with a band corresponding to VlsE in B. burgdorferi B31-5A3, interpretation was complicated by low levels of VlsE expression in in vitro-cultured B. burgdorferi and by the presence of comigrating bands. An ELISA using recombinant VlsE was compared with an ELISA using sonically disrupted B. burgdorferi as the antigen. For a total of 93
Lyme disease patient sera examined, the VlsE ELISA yielded sensitivities of 63% for culture-confirmed erythema migrans cases and 92% for later stages, as compared to 61 and 98%, respectively, for the "whole-cell" ELISA. The specificities of the two assays with healthy blood donor sera were comparable, but the VlsE ELISA was 90% specific with sera from syphilis patients, compared to 20% specificity for the whole-cell ELISA with this group. Neither assay showed reactivity with a panel of sera from 20 non-
Lyme disease arthritis patients or 20 systemic lupus erythematosus patients. Our results indicate that VlsE may be useful in the immunodiagnosis of
Lyme disease and may offer greater specificity than ELISAs using whole B. burgdorferi as the antigen.