We identified the human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6)-dominant immunoglobulin M (IgM)-reactive virion protein as being the same 101-kDa protein (101K) previously identified as the major IgG immunoreactive protein and a specific serologic marker of HHV-6 infection. An immunoblot assay (IB) to detect HHV-6-specific IgM antibodies against the 101K protein in human serum samples was developed. The assay was validated by using acute- and convalescent-phase serum collected from children under 2 years of age in which we previously detected IgG seroconversion to the HHV-6 101K protein. Of 32 serum pairs which previously demonstrated IgG seroconversion to the 101K protein, 29 had IgM reactivity to the same protein in the acute-phase sample and the remaining 3 had reactivity in the convalescent-phase sample. We also detected HHV-6 IgM activity in sera collected from individuals > or =4 years of age who were also IgM seropositive to measles or rubella. Results of cross-adsorption studies using measles virus-, rubella virus-, and HHV-6-infected cells as the adsorbing antigen indicated no cross-reactivity between measles or rubella IgM and HHV-6 IgM in human serum samples. The IgM IB detected HHV-6-specific IgM antibody to the 101K protein in 78% (63 of 81) of tested acute-phase serum collected from young children with an undifferentiated rash illness by using a single serum dilution.