Complement split products C3a and C4a are early markers of acute lyme disease in tick bite patients in the United States

Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2008;146(3):255-61. doi: 10.1159/000116362. Epub 2008 Feb 13.


Background: Current laboratory markers do not readily detect acute Lyme disease. We assessed the utility of complement and its split products as markers of Lyme disease in patients shortly after a tick bite.

Methods: Thirty-one consecutive acute Lyme disease patients, 14 with and 17 without erythema migrans (EM) skin rash, seen by a physician within 96 h of a tick bite were matched with 24 consecutive tick bite patients without Lyme disease symptoms and 46 healthy control subjects. Complement and split products measured included factor B, Bb, C4, C3c, C3a(des Arg), C4a(des Arg), C1q- and C3d-containing immune complexes, and C2.

Results: C2, C4, C3 and factor B levels were within normal ranges in all groups. C3a and C4a levels were significantly higher in acute Lyme disease patients than in tick bite and healthy control groups (both p < 0.001). All acute Lyme disease patients, regardless of EM, had elevated levels of C3a or C4a. Few tick bite controls had elevated levels of C3a (2/20) or C4a (5/24) and only 1 of the healthy control subjects had elevated C3a (0/46) or C4a (1/32).

Conclusions: These findings suggest that C3a and C4a may be useful markers of Lyme disease in patients seen shortly after tick bite, even in those without EM.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Borrelia burgdorferi / immunology*
  • Complement Activation / immunology
  • Complement C3a / analysis
  • Complement C3a / immunology*
  • Complement C4a / analysis
  • Complement C4a / immunology*
  • Erythema Chronicum Migrans / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insect Bites and Stings / immunology
  • Lyme Disease / diagnosis
  • Lyme Disease / immunology*
  • Lyme Disease / microbiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Complement C3a
  • Complement C4a