A new capture ELISA (ELAb) for determination of the IgM antibody response to the human cytomegalovirus major DNA binding protein (p52) was developed by using a p52-specific monoclonal antibody. As a reference test, a capture ELISA using in parallel viral- and cell-control labeled antigens (ELA) was employed. General specificity, which was determined on 180 unselected IgM-negative sera from an adult population was 100%; stringent specificity, which was evaluated on 108 potentially interfering sera from patients with Epstein-Barr virus infectious mononucleosis, autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid factor or treated with radioimmunotherapy, was 96.3%; finally, clinical specificity, determined on 79 IgM-negative sera drawn prior to onset of primary HCMV infection, was 100%. Thus, the overall specificity was 98.9% (363/367 IgM negative tested sera). Sensitivity assayed on 277 IgM-positive sera was 100%. The study of the kinetics of the IgM antibody response in sequential blood samples from 9 immunocompetent and 9 heart transplanted patients showed that, while in the immunocompetent p52-specific IgM titer fell sharply 2-3 months after onset and was virtually undetectable 12 months after onset, in the immunocompromised the IgM response persisted for longer than a year. Recurrent HCMV infections were associated with a high titer IgM response in 6 (30%), and with a low IgM response in another 6 (30%) heart transplanted patients within a group of 20 patients sequentially examined. Finally, IgM antibodies were detected in all 4 infants with congenital infection and in 5 of 6 infants with neonatal infection. The results show that the HCMV p52-specific IgM antibody response parallels that obtained by ELA, thus representing a major component of it. ELAb is highly sensitive, specific and reproducible. It represents a major advance among capture ELISA techniques, allowing detection of IgM antibody reactive to a specific viral protein.