VUMC, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. firstname.lastname@example.org
We investigated the influence of assay choice on the results in a two-tier testing algorithm for the detection of anti-Borrelia antibodies. Eighty-nine serum samples from clinically well-defined patients were tested in eight different enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) systems based on whole-cell antigens, whole-cell antigens supplemented with VlsE and assays using exclusively recombinant proteins. A subset of samples was tested in five immunoblots: one whole-cell blot, one whole-cell blot supplemented with VlsE and three recombinant blots. The number of IgM- and/or IgG-positive ELISA results in the group of patients suspected of Borrelia infection ranged from 34 to 59%. The percentage of positives in cross-reactivity controls ranged from 0 to 38%. Comparison of immunoblots yielded large differences in inter-test agreement and showed, at best, a moderate agreement between tests. Remarkably, some immunoblots gave positive results in samples that had been tested negative by all eight ELISAs. The percentage of positive blots following a positive ELISA result depended heavily on the choice of ELISA-immunoblot combination. We conclude that the assays used to detect anti-Borrelia antibodies have widely divergent sensitivity and specificity. The choice of ELISA-immunoblot combination severely influences the number of positive results, making the exchange of test results between laboratories with different methodologies hazardous.