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Seronegative Lyme disease. Dissociation of specific T- and B-lymphocyte responses to Borrelia burgdorferi.

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Abstract

The diagnosis of
Lyme disease often depends on the measurement of serum antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete that causes this disorder. Although prompt treatment with antibiotics may abrogate the antibody response to the infection, symptoms persist in some patients. We studied 17 patients who had presented with acute
Lyme disease and received prompt treatment with oral antibiotics, but in whom chronic
Lyme disease subsequently developed. Although these patients had clinically active
disease, none had diagnostic levels of antibodies to B. burgdorferi on either a standard enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or immunofluorescence assay. On Western blot analysis, the level of immunoglobulin reactivity against B. burgdorferi in serum from these patients was no greater than that in serum from normal controls. The patients had a vigorous T-cell proliferative response to whole B. burgdorferi, with a mean ( +/- SEM) stimulation index of 17.8 +/- 3.3, similar to that (15.8 +/- 3.2) in 18 patients with chronic
Lyme disease who had detectable antibodies. The T-cell response of both groups was greater than that of a control group of healthy subjects (3.1 +/- 0.5; P less than 0.001). We conclude that the presence of chronic
Lyme disease cannot be excluded by the absence of antibodies against B. burgdorferi and that a specific T-cell blastogenic response to B. burgdorferi is evidence of infection in seronegative patients with clinical indications of chronic
Lyme disease.

N Engl J Med. 1988 Dec 1;319(22):1441-6. Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t; Research Support, U.S. Gov’t, P.H.S.

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