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We used the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a method useful in the detection of Borrelia burgdorferi in vitro, to evaluate CSF in patients thought to have neuroborreliosis. Nested pairs of oligonucleotide primers were designed to recognize the C-terminal region of B burgdorferi OspA. CSF samples were obtained from (1) patients with immunologic evidence of systemic B burgdorferi infection and clinical manifestations suggestive of CNS dysfunction, (2) seronegative patients with clinical disorders consistent with
Lyme borreliosis, and (3) patient and contamination controls; all were analyzed in a blinded fashion. PCR detected B burgdorferi OspA DNA in CSF of (1) 10 of 11 patients with
Lyme encephalopathy, (2) 28 of 37 patients with inflammatory CNS
disease, (3) seven of seven seronegative patients with
Lyme-compatible disorders, and (4) zero of 23 patient controls. Zero of 83 additional contamination controls were PCR-positive. In eight patients from whom we obtained CSF before and after parenteral antimicrobial therapy, PCR results invariably predicted clinical outcome accurately.