A systematic study of Epstein-Barr virus serologic assays following acute infection

Am J Clin Pathol. 2002 Jan;117(1):156-61. doi: 10.1309/ETK2-L9MG-L6RA-N79Y.


We determined the presence of IgG and IgM antibody to viral capsid antigen (VCA-IgG, VCA-IgM) and IgG antibody to the Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen (EBNA) by indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) during the acute illness and at 1, 2, 6, and 48 months in a prospective population-based case series of 95 persons with an acute illness serologically confirmed as Epstein-Barr virus infection. The acute illness was characterized by the presence of VCA-IgG and VCA-IgM (by ELISA) and by the absence of EBNA in most, but not all, patients. During follow-up, VCA-IgG antibodies remained detectable in all patients, while the proportion with VCA-IgM declined and the number with detectable EBNA antibodies steadily increased. The primary differences between the 2 serologic test methods were the increased persistence of VCA-IgM during follow-up by ELISA and the earlier detection of EBNA by IFA. Clinicians should consider the illness stage and the laboratory technique to appropriately interpret serologic test results in suspected cases of mononucleosis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • Capsid / immunology
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / blood
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / immunology
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Antigens / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin M / blood
  • Immunoglobulin M / immunology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Serologic Tests / standards


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Antigens
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin M