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Human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) is an emerging infection caused by an Ehrlichia species closely related to Ehrlichia equi and Ehrlichia phagocytophila. Recent advances in the isolation and cultivation of this organism have allowed us to develop an immunofluorescence assay (IFA), enzyme immunoassay (EIA), and Western immunoblotting (WB) using HL-60 cell culture-derived human isolates. Antibody was detected in sera from culture-confirmed HGE patients by IFA and EIA, and these samples were reactive when analyzed by immunoblot analysis. HGE patient sera had high antibody titers and did not react with uninfected HL-60 cells. When IFA, EIA, and WB were used to analyze sera from healthy donors or those with a range of other disorders, including infections caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Rickettsia rickettsii, and Coxiella burnetti, no significant cross-reactivity could be detected by EIA or immunoblot analysis with the exception of two of four serum samples from R. rickettsii-infected patients that were reactive by IFA only. Sera from HGE patients did not significantly cross-react in serologic tests for Borrelia burgdorferi. Using sera from patients previously enrolled in two clinical trials of treatment for early
Lyme disease, we evaluated a two-step approach for estimation of the seroprevalence of antibodies reactive with the etiologic agent of HGE. On the basis of the immunoblot assay results for sera from culture-confirmed HGE patients, WB was used to confirm the specificity of the antibody detected by EIA and IFA. EIA was found to be superior to IFA in the ability to detect WB-confirmed antibodies to the HGE agent. When EIA and WB were used, 56 (19.9%) patients with early
Lyme disease (n = 281) had either specific immunoglobulin M (IgM) or IgG antibodies; 38 patients (13.5%) had IgM only, 6 (2.1%) had IgG only, and 12 (4.3%) had both IgM and IgG. Therefore,
Lyme disease patients are at high potential risk for exposure to Ehrlichia. Analysis by immunoblotting of serial samples from persons with culture-confirmed HGE or patients with
Lyme disease and antibodies to the agent of HGE revealed a reproducible pattern of the immune response to specific antigens. These samples confirmed the importance of the 42- to 45-kDa antigens as early, persistent, and specific markers of HGE infection. Other significant immunogenic proteins appear at 20, 21, 28, 30, and 60 kDa. Use of the two-test method of screening by EIA and confirming the specificity by WB appears to offer a sound approach to the clinical immunodiagnosis of HGE.